Now Sailing Into Severe Spoiler Territory…
The Last Voyage of the Demeter is a reimagining of a single chapter from Bram’s Stoker’s Dracula. This movie was directed by André Øvredal, a Norwegian director. Øvredal has directed Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark, The Troll Hunter and The Autopsy of Jane Doe. The Captain’s Log is a tragic tale, and I say tragic because we all know Dracula makes it from Point A to Point B of this voyage, meaning viewers go into the movie knowing very well that these characters won’t be successful in vanquishing him. This, to me, is extremely fun. I love when a series or movie warns me going into it that there are no survivors. I enjoy it because from the moment the project begins, there’s a sense of immortality or permanence to the story… like you’re being let in on something nobody else will ever encounter or experience or even hear about because nobody survived to tell the story.
One could argue this movie does have a main character, although they don’t give us much of a backstory on this person. Dr. Clemens, who is well acted by Corey Hawkins, is a doctor who defied the odds after being allowed to study medicine at the University of Cambridge despite his skin colour. Because of this he is a very confident character, but we never really see his past, his struggles or something that makes us really feel that triumph. He just tells us about it. Clemens preaches plenty about how he doesn’t need money or purpose… he just wants life to make sense to him. Which is clearly never going to happen since he gets trapped on a boat with a vampire! Like Clemens, the other characters are two dimensional. They each have a pillar of their character they cling to, but there’s not much else that’s explored. We don’t know about Clemens’ parents, his family, or his loved ones. We just know he’s an unemployed doctor trying to get to London.
We don’t know much about Anna either, besides that she boarded the Demeter alongside ‘the devil’. She’s supposedly from a village that’s been long terrorized by Dracula, but this village doesn’t have a name or a story. We don’t ever see it. She knows how to shoot a gun—presumably because of past face offs with Dracula in said village, but we don’t see that either! We just get a lot of people strolling around in the dark, calling out for each other, and believing that literally anything other than what’s causing these deaths is what’s causing these deaths. At the beginning of the movie, the Demeter’s about to sail and one of the sailors notes the emblem branded onto the crates: a seal with a dragon. He immediately panics, refusing to sail, saying the emblem is a bad omen and they’re inviting evil aboard. Weeks into the voyage, when the crew members start to die, it isn’t until the last possible second that they wonder, “You know… maybe that guy had a point!”.
I am a huge fan of Dracula. Except, it’s not really Dracula who gets trapped on this ship with them. Allow me to explain. From the trailers, I suspected this would be a creature flick but I expected an explanation regarding his appearance. Perhaps Dracula is in a feral state, underfed or between meals. We don’t know why he’s leaving Transylvania in the first place—is he injured or weak? Did something happen to drive him away? Maybe something at the village? Has he always been this winged monster? There’s really no explanation as to why he is in this form. He just is. In fact, Anna tells us Dracula always looks like this bat-monster but can dress up and walk around like a man. There’s no charm or vampire magic that surrounds this rendition of Dracula, but everybody has different interpretations of the character. In this movie, Dracula’s not a man, but a monster!
This movie suffers somewhat due to the lack of attention it pays to its main characters, Dracula included. There are two aspects of the film that stand out, the concept and the production design, but both of those things (regardless of how impressive they are) aren’t enough to save the movie from its story and characters. The second act of the film is the same scene over and over again. A character stands watch at night on the boat… hears a noise or sees something suspicious… walks around in the dark calling out Petrovsky!? or Clemens!? and the scene ends in a predictable jump scare. But the scenes that end in gruesome kills are the most exciting bits of the movie.
I’ve heard other critics say they enjoyed the kills in this movie. There isn’t anything particularly frightening about them beyond how Dracula looks. He’s absolutely terrifying, especially when he’s standing upright. But the kills in this movie also don’t correlate with what they’re trying to tell us about Dracula and his single motivation, which is to feed. He kills half of the crew by slicing them with his claws or taking a single bite from their neck. He’s not really feeding… he’s just taking one chomp out of everybody on board. For being the most famous vampire in the world, it seems like he’s pretty bad at being one!
The Last Voyage of the Demeter spends a lot of time fumbling in the dark, trying to choose a cohesive direction for its story but eventually ending the film with a very forward set up for a sequel. You could argue Clemens is out for revenge because Dracula killed Anna, but the film didn’t necessarily explore a genuine relationship between her and Clemens either. It all felt discombobulated, which I didn’t really expect from this film. One of the writers is Zak Olkwicz, who wrote Bullet Train, Fear Street: 1978 and Lights Out. All very well written movies. Same with his co-writer, Bragi F. Schut, who wrote the Escape Room movies, which I believe are super underrated. So how did two such great and creative minds give us something so dull and uninteresting?
There was so much potential due to this excerpt of Dracula’s tale rarely ever being told. But the result was a luke-warm creature feature with little pay off and even less character development. No disrespect to the filmmakers of this movie, but I don’t think The Last Voyage of the Demeter is worth seeing in theatres… but if you’re a vampire lover and a fan of pirates and stories at sea, you might love it more than I did!
Watch the trailer for The Last Voyage of the Demeter below
Universal Pictures releases The Last Voyage of the Demeter in theatres August 11, 2023
[Review by guest blogger Jurgen Sosa]