There’s no doubt about it, we’re in the midst of a vampire resurgence. While there have been a slew of vampire films in its wake, Twilight seemed to kill the bigger budget bloodsucker flicks for a bit. 2023 finds life coming back to the dead though. Sure, there are plenty of films still in production, but the announcements to Robbert Eggers bringing another remake of Nosferatu back to life and a new version of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot speaks volumes. This year also saw the release of Renfield before we reached the current tale of The Last Voyage of the Demeter. What does the André Øvredal helmed Dracula chapter have in store for the children of the night?
It’s 1897 and the crew of the Demeter are hard at work loading cargo onto the ship while docked in Romania. Captain Elliot (Liam Cunningham) and his first mate Wojchek (David Dastmalchian) are looking for extra crew to help them as they prepare their journey to England. A young doctor, Clemons (Corey Hawkins) is eager to hitch a ride and though he proves his worth, the men choose a different deckhand for the voyage.
When that deckhand almost accidentally kills Toby (Woody Norman), Captain Elliot’s only living relative, things change. If it weren’t for Clemons, Toby would be dead. But the ride her earned ends up being cursed as something strange and evil stirs in their cargo hold, terrorizing the crew when night falls. Will the Demeter make its route complete with any man left alive?
If there is one thing I get excited for, it’s a good André Øvreda film. While I still think he has never matched the brilliance of his big first hit, Trollhunter, he always finds a way to take his stories down a slightly different route than others. Maybe all that good will I built up for the man caused me to have higher expectations for his take on a singular chapter of the Bram Stoker classic, Dracula (yes I know, he didn’t write this one, though). Because while The Last Voyage of the Demeter isn’t a bad movie, it is a highly disappointing one.
Visually the movie looks nice on a cinematic level, but the visage of Dracula himself is often hampered by heavy CGI instead of classical creepy makeup. The times he is found skulking around looks great, but then he is leaping and lunging around like a blurred mass of pixels and digital rendering. He flashes on the screen so quickly at times, you can’t even make out what you’re looking at. The calmer creepiness of the undead prince needed to be handled with a little more delicacy.
The performances, while not earth shattering, all work fairly well. Corey Hawkins pulls out his subtle approach to the English accent which I love. No need to be heavy handed with your presentation, as if you think every Englishman speaks with a Cockney accent. Liam Cunningham is one of those people who can do nothing wrong, ever, when on the screen. And it was a pleasure to see David Dastmalchian in a role that wasn’t the strange, quirky, creepy man. Even in comedic roles in films like Ant-man, it felt like directors wanted you to question the man’s sanity.
But decent acting can’t save a cavalcade of poor character decisions. Sure, it is 1897 and doctor’s are still discovering so many things. But Clemons goes ahead and uses his own blood for a transfusion with someone without knowing a thing about them. They may have not known it then, but we sure as hell know now that won’t work unless they’re the same blood type. But that is a small issue, whereas their plans after gaining a slight understanding of their foe is more worrisome.
At one point Clemons and Anna (Aisling Franciosi), the young woman who was stowed away as Dracula’s travel snack, find his “coffin” while he is out hunting for the night. And while there is no reason for them to be steeped in vampire lore, they understand he doesn’t come out when the sun’s out. They’ve even seen those he has attacked and let live, burst into flames in the day. So, the next morning, instead of going back to the place he rests while it is bright and sunny, they cook up another plan to wait till night, try to injure him so much he can’t move, and then let the boat sink whilst they escape on a lifeboat.
Again, YOU KNOW HE DOESN’T COME OUT IN THE DAY! It is super bright and sunny out and you can see the shores of England in the distance. Get on the lifeboat, and burn the goddamn ship down in the middle of the ocean. Why wait and make yourself even more vulnerable. There is poor decision making, and then there is just stupidity. Instead, as the film opens, we know the boat made it to shore (in pieces) with an apparent bloodbath onboard. Yet, what we see transpire doesn’t equate to the horrors the first man aboard the wreck claims was there.
Even if I admit that I got myself hyped up for this release, no amount of clever creepiness would have overcome the poor character outlines that make up the final film. There’s also nothing wrong with expanding a singular book chapter into a feature length film, but this felt more like an excuse to prepare a sequel, “Dr. Clemons: Vampire Hunter,” instead of an attempt to make a competent film on its own. And not for nothing, but a trip on the Demeter with no Renfield? That’s a let down.
Final Grade: C-
Here’s the trailer of the film.