At first glance, you’ll instantly notice the title, The Last Voyage of the Demeter, is entirely void of any Dracula vibes. If anything, it screams disaster shipwreck story until you dig into the details and note Demeter’s origin is born from a chapter from Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel. There’s the challenge in making a full-length feature from a short story – this film has been in the works since the early 2000s. Sometimes not enough narrative exists to provide the horror to fill in the blanks.
The strength of Demeter is that it invokes the spirit of a classic monster film. Its setting is resigned to one place, and the terror comes from a vampire hybrid straight out of Nosferatu and the television adaptation of Salem’s Lot. Director André Øvredal has a tone of uneasiness regarding the ship being unsafe once things get going. However, results may vary once this iteration of Dracula gets into action and the considerable time it takes for crew members to meet their ghastly fates.
Demeter begins in 1897 when the ship’s crew comprised of narrating Captain Elliot (Liam Cunningham), his second in command Wojchek, Elliot’s grandson, Toby (Woody Norman), and a collection of characters soon to be food for our demonic, bloodthirsty entity. On their way to England, they fill up their ship with supplies and multiple coffins with a dragon logo emblazed on the front at a stop in Romania. A town local states what the audience already thinks – this is an ominous sign that things will go downhill quickly.
However, the crew has a lucrative reward on their minds. On their way, they pick up a man named Clemens (Corey Hawkins), an intelligent Black physician that completed his studies at Cambridge but has been regulated to being a second-class citizen because of the rampant racism within the world. Some of the crew are reluctant to let him aboard – however, his quick thinking and resourcefulness are the best characterization within the entire film.
You wouldn't be off base if you were watching Demeter and immediately thought of how a movie like Alien unfolds – considering it’s one of co-writer Bragi Schut Jr.’s favorite films. The crew gets settled, some slight tension arises from different backgrounds, and the fun begins. Many of the kills follow the same format. At nightfall, someone is manning the top of the boat, and then Dracula immediately gets the jump on them with sometimes brutal effect. The practicality of Javier Botet’s portrayal of the creature is where the eerieness shines the most. But the rinse and repeat of someone looking over their shoulder or going to a part of the ship where there is obvious danger starts to become repetitive.
Pair that with more CGI usage as the creature becomes more active, and you have a climate where the suspense gets undone. To interject some slight exposition, the crew discovers a woman named Anna (Aisling Franciosi), who initially looks like she’s dying from an infection. Clemens can help her with a series of blood transfusions, but her relation to Dracula only foreshadows the doom to come. I can appreciate the lack of information within the film on how to combat the famous vampire.
Often, characters stumble upon in or get filled in by someone who has dueled with him before. Not in Demeter – these characters are flying blind, and the film’s conclusion hints at possible future adventures. However, if you've read the novel, you know where this is going. While the idea is good as it tries to hearken back to when the essence of Gods and monsters was new, the almost two-hour run time wears everything down. If more concise, the Stockholm syndrome, some death choices, and the sheer hopelessness of being at sea with a thing you can’t combat would have been more effective.