As much as I enjoyed Nic Cage’s Dracula in Renfield earlier this year, I’ve been waiting for a vamp a little closer to the Count depicted in Bram Stoker’s late 19th Century novel. You know, one that will slice your throat and lick up the blood. Give me a monster that stinks of rotting flesh and death, who brings a plague to the New World. Well, The Last Voyage of the Demeter gives us a full-on beast mode Drac, a lean, mean killing machine. Director André Øvredal’s film also shows the potential in Universal’s continued investment in classic monsters. This is one bloody voyage and a fun time at the theater with a bucket of popcorn.
The film is based on a single chapter in Stoker’s 1897 book about the doomed crew of the Demeter, the ship that eventually brought Drac to London. Liam Cunningham plays Captain Eliot, who, compared to most of the crew hands, is about as even-tempered as they come. His grandson, Toby (Woody Norman), also joins. Corey Hawkins stars as Clemens, a Black doctor who studied at the University of Cambridge and is often referred to as a “heathen” by a few of the other crew members, though the racial strife never overtakes the film, nor does it feel overdone. It’s handled well. Not long into their voyage, the crew discovers the blood-depleted Anna (Aisling Franciosi), who Dracula has fed on after her eastern European village sacrificed her so the monster would leave them alone. It’s a bargain with the devil they continually make, Anna informs the living.
Each night, the creature, played by Javier Botet, rises from his coffin and picks off one crew member after the other. The deaths are brutal and swift, splattering the deck of the Demeter red. Whenever the sun sets, you know that someone else is going to die. While we do get the backstories of a few characters, too many feel like redshirts, fodder for the fanged one. Anna, Clemens, and to a lesser extent, Captain Eliot, feel like the only rounded characters here. However, there’s one harrowing scene in particular that, while predicable, is still heartbreaking.
Despite a decent sized crew, Clemens and Anna really steal most of the spotlight, and to that end, Franciosi and Hawkins turn in solid performances, becoming unlikely heroes who hatch a plan to kill the Count before he reaches London, a buffet of the living for his endless appetite. Meanwhile, the choppy seas, pounding rain, and booming thunder provide just the right gloom and doom atmosphere. You get lost in this stormy world, and this picture does look great on the big screen.
As for the creature, for most of the film, he slinks in shadowy corners and stalks his prey. He’s creepiest while lurking and hunting slightly off-frame, and the film works best when he isn’t shown fully. HIs look is at least partially inspired by Max Shreck’s Count Orlok in Nosferatu, especially the long nails, pointed ears, and hideous teeth. If it wasn’t clear by now, there’s nothing sexy or seductive about this Drac. He kills and feeds, rinse and repeat. This vampire doesn’t sparkle or even try to seduce. He’s a blood hound, addict and fiend. There’s little to his personality other than the fact he’s a killer with an unsatiable appetite. Don’t go into this looking for a Count with the personality of Christopher Lee or Bela Lugosi. This vamp hardly even speaks.
Øvredal proved with his breakout indie film The Autopsy of Jane Doe that he can direct a hair-raising feature. The Last Voyage of the Demeter has some of that unnerving tension, just with a much, much bigger budget. This is one of the stronger entries in Universal’s various reboots of classic monsters. It’s a gory good time upon the high seas.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter is currently in theaters.