Welcome to Dracula’s boat buffet, a whole film based on the part of Bram Stoker’s novel when the legendary vampire sails to London; you already know it doesn’t go well for the crew. André Øvredal’s take is ambitious but The Last Voyage of the Demeter manages to pull off a slow burn turned all out creature feature feast. And this creature came to eat, no crumbs left.
With a story inspired by the “captain’s log” recorded in Stoker’s Dracula, the film starts off with BBC literary movie vibes. You meet the crew, led by Game of Thrones alum Liam Cunningham as Captain Elliot, hired to transport all 24 of Count Dracula’s crates of “dirt” from Carpathia to London. Unknowingly, of course, they’re also transporting the vampire himself.
With just enough food for the small crew and his grandson, Elliot oversees what should be one of the last voyages he takes before retirement. Seems safe enough, right? Along for the voyage is last-minute crew addition Clemens (In the Heights’ Corey Hawkins), whose medical knowledge comes in handy when they discover a sickly stowaway—a kidnapped woman named Anna (Aisling Franciosi) who was bitten by Dracula. In an attempt to help, Clemens begins to transfuse his blood with Anna’s order to heal her ailment (being turned into a vampire bride).
The Last Voyage of the Demeter’s deliberately paced first act serves to establish who’s who in the crew, who wants to take over as captain, and the mystery of Anna’s “sickness” caused by the figure her village fears. As unrest spreads among the crew over Anna’s suspicious presence, their livestock begins to disappear—then people start to vanish, too. The story meanders a bit, but you get some eerie unsettling visuals as the film shows more and more of Dracula’s creature form—he’s not a debonair, charismatic count... yet. He’s still a monster here.
Javier Botet’s physical embodiment of Dracula is a master class in modern monster performances. Dracula is not a full-on CG creation; the actors had someone to act against and Botet understood the assignment. Really not since the classic Bela Lugosi interpretation have we seen a truly imaginative take on Dracula; here, Botet imbues the feral nature of a hunter with some truly stunning kills. And the design is grotesque and terrifying. Øvredal and Botet’s collaboration creates a Dracula that embodies the true horror of the Count through what happens on the Demeter. The last act of the film is relentlessly brutal, bloody, and worth the build-up.
Overall the film starts off on some rough waters, but once it gets down to Dracula going full terror on the sea versus a standout Corey Hawkins as the film’s hero, it’s riveting and heartbreaking. Even with a woman and kid in the picture, no one is safe. It’s a solid standalone for the Universal Monsters universe that doesn’t have to build to anything else (thank goodness)—but we still wish the studio hadn’t staked Karyn Kusama’s Dracula, especially considering The Last Voyage of the Demeter’s surprising ending.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter opens in theaters this Friday.
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