It has not been a great year for Dracula at the box office (resisting an ‘out for the count’ pun here), which is a real pity as this year’s wild genre mash-up Renfield was great fun, as is the fanged fiend’s latest – and far different – big screen offering, The Last Voyage of the Demeter.
Despite many mockingly dismissing the film online as “Dracula on a boat”, that is kind of a literature oxymoron, because this is not a gimmick but just an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s enduring tale itself, albeit one often skimmed over chapter of it (The Captain’s Log), more specifically referring to the doomed (for the ship and crew that is) sea voyage to England.
The film dwells almost entirely on the Demeter, the merchant ship carrying cargo to England from Bulgaria, in the summer of 1897. Clemons (Corey Hawkins), a young doctor, finds his way on board with the crew who are hoping for an easygoing journey to collect their bonus, but when their livestock is found drained of blood and the crew begin seeing nightmarish things play out, they realise that something evil is on board with them.
It is such a shame that The Last Voyage of the Demeter has sunk at the box office because this gory, dark and atmospheric adaptation of this excerpt of Bram Stoker’s tale is what the failed 2017 Dark Universe should have been going for. A gothic claustrophobic horror tale that presents us with an animalistic and genuinely scary Dracula, who is brought to aggressive life by Javier Botet.
Troll Hunter and Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark filmmaker André Øvredal has crafted a distinctive vampiric tale, that strands you on board the rough seas with its crew and despite the fact you know the endgame, the film has some fierce tricks up its sleeve, thanks in no small part to some strong characters and emotional beats that pay off as a result of the connections we form along the way.
There are standout performances by the likes of a likeable and noble Corey Hawkins, a brilliant Aisling Franciosi who becomes the heart of the film as Anna and especially the frightening Botet, who takes on the iconic part and gives us a ferocious Dracula to relish. Additionally, there are some great supporting turns by Liam Cunningham as the Captain and David Dastmalchian as first mate Wojchek.
There are elements here that will of course be familiar to the seasoned monster movie viewer, but the gothic cinematography by Tom Stern and Bear McCreary’s escalating score put you right in the dark headspace of this accursed vessel’s crew, and this is an effective voyage into hell as a result.
The fantastic (largely practical) sets are impressive, just as the creature design is genuinely unsettling and ghoulish. A lot of work has clearly gone into this, and despite the temptation to go – ahem – overboard always being there, Bragi Schut Jr. and Zak Olkewicz’s longtime coming screenplay never sinks into those murky waters, and Øvredal expertly steers things forward.
Even if the final tease is now leading nowhere, you ought to be along for the throat-ripping ride all the same, and we can see this film attaining a real following somewhere down the line, and it most assuredly deserves to.
THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER is out to rent/buy digitally in the US, and is currently awaiting a release in the UK