The Last Voyage of the Demeter (2023)
The Last Voyage of the Demeter (2023)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 58 min.

Release Date: August 11th, 2023 MPAA Rating: R

Director: André Øvredal Actors: Corey Hawkins, Aisling Franciosi, Liam Cunningham, David Dastmalchian, Chris Walley, Jon Jon Briones, Stefan Kapicic, Martin Furulund, Nikolai Nikolaeff, Woody Norman

 


 

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ight on crew, the transport ship Demeter, helmed by Captain Eliot (Liam Cunningham), docks in Bulgaria to acquire three more sailors – and an ominous cargo of 50 soil-filled wooden crates. When one of the new recruits is spooked by the dragon symbols on the freight, astronomer and medical expert Clemens (Corey Hawkins) is brought on board to replace him. The weeks-long journey to England begins in high spirits as the crew, including first mate Wojchek (David Dastmalchian), Abrams (Chris Walley), Olgaren (Stefan Kapicic), Larsen (Martin Furulund), Petrofsky (Nikolai Nikolaeff), and Toby (Woody Norman), dine on hearty meals made by cook Joseph (Jon Jon Briones) and ponder how best to spend the generous wages earned from this newest undertaking. But when all the livestock on the ship are brutally slaughtered, and a nearly exsanguinated young stowaway girl (Aisling Franciosi) is discovered in the hold, it quickly becomes apparent that something evil is aboard the Demeter – something intent on hunting down and killing the crew one by one.

It begins on a dark and stormy night, which is a superb environment for the bulk of the coming tale. The atmosphere, particularly with the humidity and squalls, the waves rocking the ship and splashing across the deck, and the general lightlessness – thanks not just to the cinematography and the gloomy sets, but also to the limiting technology of the period-piece era – is perhaps the film’s greatest strength. The look is continually fitting, from the costuming to the props to the various claustrophobic areas aboard the vessel.

As if nodding to the epistolary arrangement of the source material, “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” possesses numerous framing and narrative devices, though they’re essentially unnecessary – or detrimental – to the storytelling. Bookending the plot with a wreck near a lighthouse generates repetition; there’s a frustrating sense of disordering the timeline for the sake of complexity alone, via flashbacks and moving back a few weeks to fill in details; and having the captain intrude upon scenes with voiceover narration breaks up the tension. Most of it is meaningless, since the outcome of the Demeter is reiterated more than once, even before the journey begins – something of a spoiler for audiences unaware that this is an adaptation of a section of the Bram Stoker book. It might have been far more amusing if that fact was delayed or better obscured; the big reveal of the antagonist would have hit harder if it wasn’t foretold – or entirely exposed – through advertising and promotional materials.

Nevertheless, the abundant foreshadowing is engaging, if a bit generic. One of the boons here is the minimal crew, which allows many of the events on the ship to play out like “Alien” as victims are picked off individually (there’s time for sufficient character development, some philosophy, bickering about monetary bonuses, the futility of fighting, and characters wandering off alone, too), though the suspense isn’t nearly as masterful. Jump-scares occur frequently, aided by plenty of clever camerawork that seemingly accidentally captures the beast in all its unnerving glory, while the onscreen attacks are exceptionally graphic and gruesome. Yet the unease often wanes with a few predictable elements – from the obvious hero remaining impervious to early harm, to the certainty that ambushes won’t happen during the daylight hours. “Sun’s going down and he’ll be coming.”

Still, the inclusion of a child (alongside the introduction of the stowaway) creates a light twist, even as the tone remains unusually serious, severe, and panic-inducing, while much of the bloodshed is thunderous and excessive. There’s virtually no comic relief; the sense of dread and the visualized brutalities are relentless, which makes the two-hour runtime somewhat overwhelming. This is an uncommonly intense, ferocious vision of the classic monstrosity. Dracula himself is freaky and unnatural, though the use of CG often diminishes his realism; the basis around the 1897 iteration means that knowledge about vampires and their mythology aren’t accessible, allowing for more frenzied problem-solving; and the gore and makeup effects are handled well. Unfortunately, a few moments are awkwardly overdramatic, the climax remains bleak rather than triumphant, and the translation of a middle chapter of the novel lends to the picture also feeling as if a stranded segment of a larger story.

– The Massie Twins

  • 5/10