Last Updated on August 14, 2023
The Last Voyage of the Demeter (also known as Dracula: Voyage of the Demeter) is another film directly inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This time, the story is based on the section of the novel known as the ‘Captain’s Log’. For those unfamiliar, Dracula travels from Varna, Bulgaria to England on board a ship called the Demeter. The ship ultimately arrives in England derelict and crewless. This isn’t really a spoiler as the opening film goes out of its way (needlessly, in my view) to set this up from the outset. The Captain’s Log, as you might have guessed, is a set of notes taken by the Captain of the Demeter as things go sideways on the voyage. It’s epistolary in nature (as is the rest of Dracula), meaning there’s quite a bit of room for imagination by the writers/director. Do they take full advantage of this? I’m not so sure.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter spent a while in development hell, with numerous directors and actors attached to it over time. The version we got is directed by André Øvredal (The Autopsy of Jane Doe and Troll Hunter) and based on a screenplay by Bragi Schut (Escape Room and Season of the Witch), and Zak Olkewicz (Bullet Train). In an interview, Øvredal described it as “basically Alien on a ship in 1897″. Unfortunately, The Last Voyage of the Demeter does not hit the heights of Alien (few films do), but the concept itself is a good one.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter adds some additional characters to those mentioned in the novel. First and foremost is Clemens, played by Corey Hawkins (The Tragedy of Macbeth), a learned man hitching a ride back to England, and then Anna, played by Aisling Franciosi (The Nightingale), a mysterious stowaway. Hawkins and Franciosi, together with Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones), are the standouts, breathing life into some mediocre dialogue. David Dastmalchian, who plays the first mate, is also a solid contributor. There are a few additional characters, but they don’t add a lot beyond being fodder for Dracula.
Visually, there is quite a bit to like about The Last Voyage of the Demeter. There were several visually pleasing shots, but it was the production design in particular that impressed me. From Varna (seemingly shot in Malta), to the Demeter, to England, we see a commitment to costumes and set design. It’s obvious that a lot of care went into constructing the sets for the Demeter, where the bulk of the film takes place. A similar care is taken with respect to practical effects. A lot of people get bitten in this movie (shocking, I know), so it was good to see the bites were practically rendered and there was quite a bit of gore (could’ve used more). The monster design for Dracula was good (even if I prefer the suave aristocrat vibe in general).
Leaning into the horror angle was a good idea, but I don’t think they nailed it. Too much time was spent on uninteresting character dynamics and not enough on building tension. Instead of tension, we got a series of jump scares (some of which worked for me). I am not the biggest fan of jump scares in general though, so take my dislike with a grain of salt. In my ideal world, I’d have loved to see a shorter, stripped back version of The Last Voyage of the Demeter, like a typical slasher film (but with Dracula!). Criticisms aside, there are some fun kills. The film did a good job at conveying just how far out of everyone’s league Dracula was, and it was quite enjoyable watching him toy with his victims before killing them.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter certainly isn’t the first horror film where characters make terrible decisions, but some of the decision-making on display strained belief. And that’s probably my biggest complaint, the writing. The plot is full of contrivances and there’s quite a bit of mediocre dialogue. And it’s too bad, because the rest of the film is solid. If you can set the nitpicking side of your brain aside, it’s worth checking out. Who doesn’t want to watch a doomed crew of sailors slowly getting taken apart by a monstrous Dracula?