The Last Voyage of the Demeter (2023) Review
A “BLOODY” VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED
Tales of vampires have always been a main staple in the horror genre….and I’m not just talking about movies. Mythical undead creatures of the night that derive from European folklore that subsists by feeding on the vital essence of life (aka blood) and have been classical depicted in traditional forms (i.e., pale skin, fanged teeth, dark hair, sleeps in coffin, hates the daylight, etc.). Perhaps the most famous comes in the shape of Dracula (aka Vlad the Impaler), with such description of being has transcended average folklore tales and has manifested in mainstream pop culture. With such fascination of vampires (and or Dracula himself), Hollywood has taken interest in these vampiric creatures in a wide variety of motion pictures, including 1992’s Dracula, 1994’s Interview with a Vampire, 2003’s Underworld, 2004’s Van Helsing, 2008’s Twilight, 2012’s Hotel Transylvania, 2014’s Dracula Untold, and many others. Now, Universal Pictures and director André Øvredal present the latest film to feature a vampire with the release of The Last Voyage of the Demeter. Is it love at “first bite” within this horror flick or does it soullessly suck (no pun intended)?
Set in the year 1897, the Demeter, a cargo ship, smashes into an English costal town, with the local authorities sent to investigate the recent shipwreck. To their surprise, there is nobody on board, with only the captain’s log remaining to detail the events on-board, which involves of dark vampiric entity on the high seas. The tale involves Clemens (Corey Hawkins), a young doctor who is looking to prove himself by trying to find a way out of Bulgaria and head to London, England for a fresh start. While a port, Clemens enlists with the crew of the Demeter, joining Captain Elliot (Liam Cunningham) and first mate Wojchek (David Dastmalchian), as they accept gold from a mysterious benefactor, tasked with bringing several crates of dirt to London. With voyage beginning, the journey at sea begins easy enough, with the crew excited about receiving a sizable bonus wager for delivering the cargo to their destination on time, but trouble soon emerges when violent acts of killing start to be discover on the Demeter as well as the discovery of a stowaway named Anna (Aisling Franciosi), who is semi-delirious state. Regaining her strength thanks to Clemens, Anna gives a warning to the crew, identifying the maleficent creature as Dracula (Javier Botet) as the true cargo in the mysterious crates, with the vampire emerging from his holding, ready to feast upon the crew, who have no idea how to vanquish this nightmare evil.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Borrowing my opening paragraph and this one from my review of 2022’S The Invitation (achieving both aims and goals on what I want to convey) …… while I do love movies (in general), I do love all stuff fantasy. Beings of folklore, beasts of legend, and creatures of mythology, I would say that I am a fantasy nerd through and through. Thus, it comes as no surprise, I do find a somewhat interest in vampires. Not as much as some out there, but it’s kind of an interesting notion of these undead creatures that prey upon the lifeforce of blood has become a fascinating topic in folklore and in pop culture. Of course, the classic Dracula moniker and depiction was probably one of my first impression of how vampires are to be seeing. Naturally, this cartoon-ish depiction of such a character was probably something that most of us first drew eyes upon of vampires. Of course, as I got older, I found that vampire themselves became more mature and something more ghoulish and horrific as well as learning of all their superstitious rules (i.e. sleeping in coffins, fearing holy water, dislike of sunlight, silver can kill them, etc.). From there, I can recall a lot of the movies that had vampires creatures such Dracula, Dracula Untold, Underworld, and Interview with a Vampire, with some being iconic in cinematic history, while others are just forgettable pictures (forgot to mention Morbius). Yet, I still like the Hotel Transylvania movies that play up those cartoon-ish tropes of Dracula (aka “I don’t say…. blah, blah, blah!). Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Twilight (and all of that crazy that went with that novel / film franchise), with the tale of Edward and Bella intermingling the vampiric creatures with more Teen / YA overtones of young love. Although, I never get the whole “sparkling / glittery” skin…. that’s just dumb. In the end, vampire still have a keen interest amongst many and throughout my cultures and Hollywood seems to continue feed that particular interest to moviegoers.
This brings me back to talking about The Last Voyage of the Demeter, a 2023 period piece / horror feature and the latest film to utilize the usage of vampiric creature as the main threat. To be quite honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie. It wasn’t until I heard about the movie that I began seeing the film’s movie trailers appearing online. Interestingly, I never saw the trailer at the actual movies during the “coming attractions”, but I do remember seeing the film’s movie posters throughout the several theaters that I’ve visited throughout the past few months. Anyway, back to the point, the film’s movie trailer looked quite interesting. As I’ve stated many times before in my reviews, I’m not so much big or into horror films that much, but I’ve been starting to like a few of them. This is most apparent in this movie as I caught a few snippets of it intrigue and interest when I view the preview, which seemed to be more of a “classic” horror feature rather than modern horror endeavor. So, yes, I was definitely interested in seeing this movie, so I decided to check this particular film out a few weeks after its initial theatrical release. I did wait a few more weeks after seeing the movie to get my review done for this, for my work schedule got a little bit busy and had to play “catch up” with some other reviews. So, with some free time now, I’m finally ready to share my personal thoughts on this film. And what did I think of it? Well, it was good and had a lot going for it, but needed some help in a few areas. With an interesting premise and some great production quality, The Last Voyage of the Demeter manages to make for an effective horror film that takes more of a bite of its narrative than sucking it dry. There’s definitely “room for improvement” in certain areas, but, as a whole, I did like more than some of the recent horror movies of late….and that’s a good thing.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter is directed by André Øvredal, whose previous directorial works include such films like Trollhunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Given some of his background of utilizing practical effect films and several horror feature films under his belt, Øvredal seems like the ideal choice to helm a project such as this and I find that he definitely succeeds on that front. With the movie encompassing a single chapter from Stoker’s original text, Øvredal certainly has his heart (and intent) in the right place by approaching the source material with enough “bloody fun” (no pun intended). This, of course, provides plenty for the film to “spring” off of, with Øvredal approaching the subject material with enough integrity and vision for what he wanted to establish in this movie’s direction and overall execution. While the movie may be light on some storytelling substance, Øvredal makes up for it with a classic touch horror delight. There’s a great sense of foreboding and underlining air of mystery in the first half of the movie, with Øvredal cast a blanket of “uncertainty” for Last Voyage’s tone and characters. This helps generate plenty of “atmosphere mood” in the front half of the feature, which sets the stage for some horror violence. I wouldn’t say that it’s the absolute best in horror making, but Øvredal certainly knows how to present some genuine bloody violence throughout the feature (and that’s something that I know that many viewers wanted to see). In that regard, Øvredal delivers and makes the movie creative in how vicious and brutal Dracula is as he picks off the crew of the Demeter one by one. Plus, with the character of Clemens, being a man of practical mind, it’s fun to see him (along with the rest of the crew) face off against a creature that is damned and being from the depths of a nightmare hell. It’s the classic “good vs. evil” or rather “reality vs. fantasy” notion of which Øvredal plays up within the context of its character, which I did enjoy a lot. In addition, the actual ship of the Demeter provided a sense of dread and isolation, with the vessel adrift at sea (cut off from the rest of society and the world) and how maze-like and claustrophobic the ship’s interior halls and cabins are as evil resides within its worn wooden planks. It’s within that fear and seclusion where Øvredal makes most of the feature’s horror aspect and helps cultivate some frightening moments….even when Dracula himself isn’t physically on-screen.
Also, I found that Øvredal’s decision to depict Dracula more beast-like / human hybrid being instead of a human-esque individual to be cinematically interesting in the long run. Some criticized that the character was too “fantastical” and didn’t have the same type of nuances as one would expect in depicting Dracula himself, but I loved the design, which sent chills down my spine every time he appeared on-screen. Some moments of iffy CGI do muddy it up a bit, but a great majority of Dracula in Last Voyage was hauntingly beautiful to behold. In the end, while flawed in a few areas (more on that below) I felt that Øvredal did a good job by expanding upon what was mentioned in Stoker’s Dracula, with the Last Voyage telling the tale of the crew of the Demeter in quite an effective manner and the terror that lies on-board.
For its presentation, Last Voyage does quite an amazing job (at least I think so) throughout its production quality that almost acts as a period piece horror feature. As some of my readers know, I am a sucker for costumed period piece endeavors, so seeing a film like this (even a horror one) caught my interest immediately and it’s all for the better. The overall “look and feel” of the film’s background aesthetics is fantastic and definitely gives a sense of realism and credibility to the movie’s world (circa late 1800s). From the top decks to the interior cabins, the movie’s primary set of the Demeter breathes and acts like a character itself….and that’s a good thing. So, the film’s “behind the scenes” team, including Edward Thomas (production design), Bernhard Henrich (set decorations), Carlo Poggioli (costume designs), and the entire art direction team, should be praised in their efforts in bringing Øvredal’s vision to life in a very dramatic and cinematic way.
In addition, the cinematography work by Tom Stern is terrific throughout and gives a quite “atmospheric” layer to this presentation. There’s plenty to like about Stern’s work, especially in the usage of close quarter feeling (as mentioned above) and the usage of shadowing and lightning as well as camera angles that help bring those cinematic nuances the correct way. Also, while I don’t normally mention this unless I feel it to be necessary, but I did find that the sound design (editing and mixing) for the film was quite good. I don’t think that it would be nominated for anything during the award season, but it should be worth noting and definitely delivered on some great usage of sound throughout the feature’s presentation. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Bear McCreary, is quite solid all the way around. With its heightened music composition of suspense, thrills, and period piece style moods (sometimes a bit gothic in a few areas that is accompanied by choir singing), McCreary’s presentation is the perfect compliment for the movie and deliver a very moving (and sometimes memorable) soundtrack for the endeavor.
Unfortunately, Last Voyage does falter in a few areas that, while not completely derail the movie, are quite noticeable and somewhat hinder the feature in a several parts. Perhaps the most prevalent one comes in how thin the narrative is. Granted, the movie’s main story is taken from a single chapter of Stoker’s novel, so I wasn’t expecting anything grand. However, it goes without saying that the movie is quite light in trying to fill out an entire feature film with such little premise and / or substance to pull from. Thus, the movie’s story itself is definitely too thin and stretch way too much, which results in the film having a glossy feel that skims the surface on certain aspects and not really much “meat on the bone” for large portions. The basic premises, while interesting and commendable to expand upon, lacks the necessary details and / or substance to make a fully motion picture out of. This is most apparent towards the latter half of the feature, with Øvredal struggling to achieve the same exact type of momentum as it did in the first half of Last Voyage. To add more insult to injury, the movie itself has quite a lengthy runtime, with the feature clocking in at around 118 minutes (one hour and fifty-eight minutes). In the latter half, the movie follows a sort of repetition that becomes mind-numbing at times and clearly demonstrates that there wasn’t a whole lot of creative ingenuity during this part. Yes, this part it becomes the classic horror tropes and cliches of examination, with characters (and plot) making “bonehead” mistakes that would not be handled that way in reality.
In addition, the film’s script, which was penned by Bragi F. Schut and Zak Olkewicz, helps in weighing the movie down further, with the written plot absorbing a lot of that lack of substance aspect and doesn’t really do much to exam more of Stoker’s tale. Yes, there are bits and pieces of exposition nuggets that are provided in the script on helping to explain Dracula’s past (via the character of Anna), but the characters themselves don’t really mount to much in ways and means of characterization development. Also, the script seems to generate the bare minimum in trying to examine the life and times of what comes on throughout the voyage of the Demeter. This is most apparent in the middle portion of the movie where the routine of a horror movie sets in and becomes a bit formulaic, with predictable jump scares as well as stereotypical twist and turns that sometimes miss their intended target.
Also, even if one hasn’t seeing read Stoker’s Dracula, the Last Voyage itself is retelling of events that happened in the past, which is presented as a flashback, with the beginning of the film introducing a recent crashed derelict ship and the crew nowhere to be found. Thus, the large bulk of the movie is displaying what happened that leads up to that moment. While this storytelling structure isn’t uncommon, the film still means that most of the characters presented in the main story are, more or less, “cannon fodder”, especially in horror flick. In essence, Last Voyage is like what a lot of prequel endeavors falter upon, with the endgame already written and the feature itself is leading up to that particular point. This means that the fate of the crew of the Demeter seems quite predictable and the movie basically provides what becomes of them……at the clawed hands and fangs of Dracula himself.
The cast in the Last Voyage is a bit of a mixed bag, with the acting talent assembled is competent and up to the task for playing the various characters throughout this feature. So, while the performances aren’t terrible or bad, it’s actually the script (and its limited scope) that hinders most for being memorable or distinct enough to stand out long enough. Leading the charge in the movie is actor Corey Hawkins, who plays the protagonist role of Clemens, a doctor and new ship hand crew member on the Demeter. Known for his roles in Straight Outta Compton, Kong: Skull Island, and In the Heights, Hawkins is a capable actor that has begun to appear more and more in prominent productions. Thus, seem him in the “lead role” in this film is no surprise and he certainly does do a capable job as Clemens. I also definitely like how the character is set up, with being a doctor and believing in more realism and practical usage, which juxtapose the otherworldly and fantastical creature of a vampire as an adversary. However, while that dynamic is quite “clear cut” in how the film wants to be presented in Clemens, his character still undercooked and has difficulty trying to convey his poignancy during the film’s entirety. Hawkins is quite capable of handling the screen presence in the feature, but the script only does the bare minimum in Clemens’s journey arc.
The same can be also said for the character of Anna, a stowaway on-board the Demeter who is familiar with the evil that’s stalk the crew, and who is played by actress Aisling Franciosi (The Fall and Game of Thrones). For her part, Franciosi does a pretty decent job in the movie and definitely holds her own as an actress, especially since she is the only female character in the entire film. However, the character of Anna herself is kind of half-baked in a way that there was “room” for her character development, but seemed to be discarded on the cutting room floor (or writer’s floor exactly). Thus, Anna has a lot of importance in the movie and could’ve been better handled, but ends up being a slightly more exposition narrative character, especially since she knows of the evil being that stalks the ship.
Perhaps the only the character in the movie is giving enough “substance” and emotional grip is found within the Demeter’s Captain Elliot, who is played by actor Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones and Clash of the Titans). How so? Well, I believe that Cunningham acts as the “seasoned” veteran actor for the Last Voyage and does definitely hold his own in some of the more “meatier” scene that require a bit more emotion / weight within them. In addition, the substance for his character is also pretty good and adds some good dynamics to his character, which (in hindsight) is kind of a good thing. He’s fleshed out enough for us (the viewers) to care about, with Cunningham delivering a solid performance all the way around. In conjunction with Cunningham, young actor Woody Norman (Cobweb and C’mon C’mon) does a good job as Toby, Captain Elliot’s grandson. As to be expected, the character of Toby is given enough gumption and youthful determination to be the most “innocent” character on-board the Demeter, despite all the doom and gloom that happens on the ship.
For the other crew of the Demeter, I would say that actor David Dastmalchain (Dune and Oppenheimer) gives a good performance in the role of Wojchek, the first mate of the ship. Dastmalchain, like Cunningham, brings the right amount of theatrical presence whenever on-screen and his character of Wojchek, while predictable, is still an effective one as the doubter and naysayer against Clemens decisions throughout the movie. The other crew members, including actor Jon Jon Briones (American Horror Story and Ratched) as Joesph, actor Stefan Kapicic (Deadpool and Better Call Saul) as Olgaren, actor Nikolai Furulund (Monster and Victor) as Larsen, and actor Chris Walley (The Young Offenders and Bloodlands) as Abrams, fill out the rank of the remaining players. As to be expected, most of these characters are supposed to be “cannon fodder” in horror movies, so I didn’t expect much of them. Still, the acting talent involved help elevate their characters’ shortcomings.
Lastly, actor Javier Botet (Crimson Peak and The Conjuring 2) does a good job in playing the role of the film’s titular vampiric creature…. Dracula. While not so much “in-depth” within his character, Dracula himself (as mentioned above) is quite the imposing figure throughout the entire film, with Botet, who has played many different frightening horror characters in his career, deliver on that promise and makes for a memorable screen presence in playing the famous vampire of Transylvania.
Bound for England, the crew of the Demeter unearth a dark evil within its cargo that plagues their ship and is looking to feast upon their blood in the movie The Last Voyage of the Demeter. Director André Øvredal latest film takes a highlighted chapter from Bram Stoker’s Dracula narrative and expands upon that passage, exploring the sojourn journey of infamous vampire aboard the Demeter and unleashing his blood-sucking hunger (and power) upon its crew with gruesome horror delight. While the movie does falter in its lengthy runtime, several stupid horror storytelling “bonehead” tropes / cliches, and underutilized character development, the film does steady the course with some of Øvredal’s direction (including several chilling and effective moments), some chilling moments, a great production quality, a solid score, and a capable of cast. Personally, I thought that this movie was somewhere good and okay, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Of course, I really didn’t expect much from this, so my expectations were a bit low and made my enjoyment of the feature a bit more than what was anticipating. Though the movie is limited and gets a tad redundant in the latter half, scaling the movie down to some bonehead character tropes of horror flicks. Still, this was made for horror fans and I think it is a bit above average than some of the recent releases of the genre. Thus, my recommendation for the movie would probably be a “rent it” as it doesn’t have a whole lot of “replay” value, but still worth a look for those looking for a slightly different take on the Dracula tale. While there is a potential setup for a sequel by the time the end credits begin to roll, I feel that one is a bit unnecessary as the movie should just be a standalone endeavor and nothing more. In the end, The Last Voyage of the Demeter, despite some clunky execution and undertaking, proves to be decently effective horror jaunt to provide for some entertainment, casting a new cinematic light on the infamous Dracula character and the doomed ship (and crew) of the Demeter.
3.8 Out of 5 (Rent It)
Released On: August 11th, 2023
Reviewed On: September 25th, 2023
The Last Voyage of the Demeter is 118 minutes long and is rated R for bloody violence