The Last Voyage of the Demeter

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The Last Voyage of the Demeter lifts a chapter from Bram Stoker’s Dracula and turns it into a standalone story. Ambitious enough.

If you haven’t read it, it’s a dark, storm-tossed episode told through the captain’s log of the doomed vessel the Demeter, a cargo ship which sails from Varna in Bulgaria, laden with boxes containing Transylvanian earth – plus one containing Dracula himself – destination London.

By the time the ship reaches the UK, everyone on board is dead, having been sucked dry on successive nights by the Count.

Spoiler? Yes, except the film gives us this grim conclusion right up front – a ship wrecked off the coast of Whitby and everyone on board dead, an attempt to hook audiences on streaming channels with some immediate action, horror and mayhem, but which doesn’t do the drama any favours. Movies of old didn’t have this problem. Captive audiences have already paid and can be played about with more.

OK, so. It’s a good cast, with Corey Hawkins at the top of the bill as a doctor reluctantly taken on as part of the Demeter’s crew, a Cockney doctor no less. Liam Cunningham as the ship’s captain, a kindly wise old salt. David Dastmalchian as the first mate, a relatively normal role for an actor who seems to specialise in weirdos. Aisling Franciosi as the stowaway – a woman, bad luck! Stefan Kapicic as a suspicious Slav, or was he Greek – the accents all wander a bit. And a few others, all of them good, particularly Nikolai Nikolaeff as an ornery Russian who might as well have “bite me first” tattooed on his neck.

It is a good cast in the functional sense that everyone knows what they’re doing. It is well shot, also in a functional sense, by Tom Stern, who’s done a lot for Clint Eastwood. Bear McCreary’s score also gets the job done, sounding like it was written in a hurry using other scores as reference points.

Corey Hawkins and Aisling Franciosi
Clemens and stowaway Anna

It looks at all times like a film – that there is definitely a set, that’s a backdrop, there’s the ship in a tank in the studio, a bit of CG here, a physical effect there. The idea is a vague imitation of a Hammer horror film, I think, though this layer of referential artifice between us and the action also doesn’t do the drama any favours

Hawkins’s Clemens is the Van Helsing of the Demeter, a man of reason who will become the main barrier between Dracula, or Nosferatu, and the rest of humanity. Talking of which, here’s Javier Botet as the man/beast himself, and what a relief it is when the vampire finally gets out of his casket and starts to dominate the film.

Things warm up, take off in fact, once the Count takes wing, with Botet’s tall, slender frame dressed impressively in latex-leathery batwings and needlepoint teeth (now the standard issue when it comes to vampires – elongated canines are so fashion backward).

André Øvredal’s direction also picks up (as does the pace of the editing), and reminds us he’s a good director of genre movies (Troll Hunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark all evidence of that) though he’s hamstrung here by a story that has nothing particularly new to say – a black lead character notwithstanding (in any case the screenplay seems unsure whether the colour of Hawkins’s skin is to be remarked on or not).

By this point in the sorry saga that was originally meant to be Universal’s counter to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC’s Extended Universe, Universal have long ago given up on its Dark Universe idea of monsters all hobnobbing together in some shared reality – Dracula Untold started it in 2014 and the failure of The Mummy ended those dreams in 2017.

The movies go on but the shared aspect does not. The Last Voyage of the Demeter has been years (decades, in fact) in development and doesn’t reference any other part of the Universe universe, but maybe it’s evidence that the Dark Universe still limps on, half-alive in a box filled with earth somewhere, and will yet spring back to life, perhaps revived by a drop of box-office blood.

It won’t get it from The Last Voyage of the Demeter, which is competent but nothing more. Indeed, as the ship is being dashed to pieces on the rocks towards the film’s end, it audaciously suggests there’s a sequel story to be told. Not a bat in hell’s chance.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2023

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