"The Last Voyage of the Demeter" stars Corey Hawkins, Aisling Franciosi, David Dastmalchian, Javier Botet, Liam Cunningham, and Woody Norman. Released on August 11, 2023, the film has a crew encountering a vicious vampire on their merchant ship.
The film was directed by André Øvredal, who also directed films such as "Trollhunter", "The Autopsy of Jane Doe", "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark", and "Mortal". It is an adaptation of "The Captain's Log", a chapter from Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula. Many have heard the tale of the iconic king of vampires through books, movies, television shows, and video games. However, some of us know about Dracula's early days before he became a handsome yet deadly version of himself. Beforehand, he was a monstrous half-human, half-bat creature who stalked and killed innocent victims, including an unsuspecting crew of the Demeter. That event became known as "The Captain's Log", a chapter in Bram Stoker's Dracula depicting the mysterious tragedy on the sea caused by the creature. With how terrifying the chapter was, Hollywood wasted no time adapting this part of the classic novel for moviegoers worldwide. Was it a deadly voyage worth taking or a rocky trip designed to make us seasick? Let's head out to sea and find out.
The story centers on Clemens (Hawkins), a doctor who joins the crew of their ship, the Demeter. Led by Captain Elliot (Cunningham), the crew is tasked with transporting cargo from Varna, Bulgaria to London, England. During the trip, Clemens discovers that one of the crates inside the cargo hold has a woman buried in the dirt. The woman is a mysterious stowaway named Anna (Franciosi), who warns Clemens about a bloodthirsty creature named Dracula (Botet), who she was bound to by her village. As Dracula invades the ship and kills the crew members one by one, Clemens attempts to subdue the monster to survive the deadly trip across the sea.
You can basically call it "Alien" on a ship from the synopsis alone. However, instead of an extraterrestrial killing the crew members, we got Man-Bat from the Batman comics haunting a ship in deadly waters. No, really. The early version of Dracula almost looks like Man-Bat. I'm sure I'm not the only person who immediately realizes the resemblance. In short, the film is another addition to the horror subgenre, where a group of characters reside in a single location and are hunted and killed by a monstrous entity with no way out. With the proper execution, these types of movies can provide a claustrophobic and anxiety-inducing ride that'll make people afraid of being in these locations themselves. Heck, even I'm not dumb enough to ride on a ship during a stormy night, which is why I prefer to watch these experiences on the screen instead of living them.
"The Last Voyage of the Demeter" is no exception to the rule. Unfortunately, unlike the legendary vampire himself, this is the one voyage that's not worth remembering. To its credit, the film does deliver a refreshing side of Dracula as a vicious monster straight out of a mythology tale. It showcases that Dracula is not just a handsome vampiric human wearing fancy clothes and a cape we've seen in cartoons. However, regarding the story's execution, "Demeter" is a sluggish yet atmospherically bleak trek that undermines its nightmarish sense of dread and straightforward narrative.
Now what do I mean by "sluggish"? Well, the film likes to take its time with the characters before they become Dracula's midnight snack. Amid the horror aspect, "Demeter" explores the crew members on their way to transport cargo to England, including Clemens, who volunteers due to his medical skills and education. This would've paid off as a tension-filled character study involving the crew's doomed voyage. Sadly, that isn't the case, as the screenplay by Bragi Schut Jr. and Zak Olkewicz was overshadowed by thinly-written characters and a bare-bones formula done better in similar movies like "Alien". The slow pacing didn't help much either, especially when the crew members getting killed is more interesting than the film's human aspect. The movie clocks in at almost two hours, which seemed overkill regarding its concept and direction. If it's twenty to thirty minutes shorter, that would make the trek less tedious than it was with two hours.
On the other hand, the film has plenty of moments that make the trip almost tolerable, including André Øvredal. Based on my experience with this director, I've only seen "Trollhunter" and the 2019 adaptation of "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark". I remembered liking "Trollhunter" for his approach to the "found footage" genre, and I thought he handled the spine-chilling atmosphere in "Scary Stories" very well despite its flawed plot. The latter is the only reason for my curiosity toward "Demeter". While the scares and disturbing content didn't leave much of an impact, Øvredal provides a haunting and dimly-lit atmosphere fit for a vampire king. Unfortunately, this means that you don't want to watch the film during the daytime. The production designs and costumes were also great for its late 1800s setting, making it feel like they're straight out of a history book.
Another element I enjoyed is the cast. Despite the characters being slightly bland, the actors put a respectable effort into their performances to keep this ship floating. Corey Hawkins has been delivering some decent work throughout his career, with "Straight Outta Compton" and "Kong: Skull Island" being responsible for putting him on the Hollywood map. "Demeter" sees him playing a doctor fighting a vampire, and the result is admittedly decent. While far from his best performance, Hawkins did pretty well in providing a sense of fear and perseverance in Clemens. Liam Cunningham was also solid as Captain Elliot and Aisling Franciosi was suitable as Anna. "Demeter" also marks the latest appearance by Javier Botet, known for playing creature roles, as he portrays Dracula through practical makeup and CGI effects. Unsurprisingly, he looks as terrifying as his other monstrous roles, but in a good way, and the visuals helped resemble the man-bat creature's horrific appeal. But again, the impact of its terror left much to be desired. I would also credit Woody Norman, best known for his work on "C'mon C'mon", for his talent as Toby, Elliot's grandson. Too bad it is wasted on a weary lackluster like this.
Overall, "The Last Voyage of the Demeter" is a rocky voyage across the sea that's nightmarishly atmospheric yet sluggishly thin regarding its narrative and characters. To its credit, the film offers what it advertised, and it's "Alien" on a ship, but it replaces the Xenomorph with Man-Bat. It's occasionally creepy and violent in its kills and atmosphere. Sadly, along with the movie's cast, Øvredal's serviceable vision was undermined by its inability to deliver enticement and gleefully dark frights in its trek through dangerous waters due to its mediocre script and inconsistent pacing. For fans of vampire movies, this is one voyage that's worth taking once but will likely be forgotten in a few days.