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Review: ‘The Last Voyage of the Demeter’ Adapts an Iconic Horror Classic into a Toothless Creature Feature

August 10, 2023Ben MK

A tale as old as the horror genre itself, the story of Dracula has been told and retold time and time again. From 1922's Nosferatu to Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 version starring Gary Oldman, movies about the infamous bloodsucker have entertained audiences for decades. Whether it's Christopher Lee's cult classic portrayal or Nicolas Cage's offbeat reimagining, filmmakers can't seem to get enough of Bram Stoker's iconic classic. And with The Last Voyage of the Demeter, director André Øvredal is offering up his interpretation, in this dour adaptation of one of Dracula's most terrifying chapters.

Unfolding over the course of four weeks in 1897, the film follows Clemens (Corey Hawkins), a Cambridge-trained doctor whose skin color has made it challenging for him to find employment in his chosen profession. Stranded in Romania and eager to find a way back to England, Clemens sees an opportunity to make his return home when the Russian schooner Demeter arrives at port in search of three able-bodied seamen to help them with their next voyage. Captained by a veteran sailor named Eliot (Liam Cunningham), who has been commissioned to transport fifty wooden crates of mysterious origin from Carpathia to London, the Demeter has seen its share of rough seas, and any man who looks upon it would have little doubt that it would be able to hold up against the ocean waves and treacherous weather it would have to endure during its month-long trip across the Atlantic. What neither Eliot nor his first mate Wojchek (David Dastmalchian) ever imagined, however, would be that they would also have to survive the very cargo they'd be carrying — a demonic figure that has terrorized Romania for centuries.

Of course, that figure is none other than the one and only Dracula (Javier Botet). And within mere days of leaving port for their destination, the nine-man crew of the Demeter begins to experience inexplicable goings-on that foreshadow the terrible things to come. From the brutal murder of the assortment of livestock intended to sustain them along their journey to the unexpected appearance of an apparent stowaway named Anna (Aisling Franciosi), who exhibits signs of a strange blood infection not even Clemens can fathom, these ominous events cast a dark shadow over their long passage, plunging their ultimate fate further and further into uncertainty. But when it becomes clear that Dracula intends to kill each and every one of them in order to restore himself to full power, it's up to Clemens, Anna, and the few remaining survivors of Dracula's wrath to figure out a way to stop him. Will they succeed? Or will the Prince of Darkness slaughter them all before they make landfall?

A mash-up between Alien, Titanic, and the supernatural survival horror genre, the result won't come as much of a surprise to viewers who are familiar with Stoker's original novel, as Øvredal employs murky visuals, claustrophobic environments and the usual assortment of jump scares in an attempt to curdle the blood of filmgoers. What is surprising, though, is just how lackluster The Last Voyage of the Demeter actually is, as the movie fails to truly lean in on the most crowd-pleasing aspects of the genre, instead opting to double down on the story's most depressing themes and drag out its source material to the point where audiences would be glad for the film to end. Add in the obvious plot holes and missed opportunities to give the movie any iota of an interesting twist, and you have the makings of a disappointment for both Dracula fans and horror fans alike.

That said, The Last Voyage of the Demeter isn't a complete and utter shipwreck, thanks to the genuinely creepy visual and practical effects that go into making this rendition of Dracula one of the most frightening creature designs in recent memory. Aside from that, however, there are precious few reasons to justify the mere existence of this retelling. And while that certainly won't put a stake through the heart of future potential Dracula adaptations, it may be enough to drive other would-be revamps back into the crypt — at least for now.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter releases August 11th, 2023 from Universal Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for bloody violence. Its runtime is 1 hr. 58 min.

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