It seems only fitting that a character as undead as Dracula has an immortal lifespan when it comes to big screen adaptations. It was only a few months ago we had Nicolas Cage’s iteration in the blackly comic Renfield, and now, in a complete mood shift from his camp goriness, we have Dracula: The Last Voyage of the Demeter to scratch a more gothic, atmospheric itch should you want your Counts a little more vicious; for those playing at home, the film has been released in the US as simply The Last Voyage of the Demeter – the local distributors no doubt hoping the inclusion of Dracula in the title will entice more willing participants come opening weekend.
Because the tale of Dracula itself is one that mostly everyone knows – at least those going into a film with the character as its subject – The Last Voyage of the Demeter has an advantage in that it can build up intrigue surrounding its sub-titular voyage. The story itself – penned by Bragi F. Schut (Samaritan), Stefan Ruzowitzky (Patient Zero) and Zak Olkewicz (Bullet Train) – is based on a single chapter from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, where the Demeter sailed from a region in Romania to a port town in England, with fifty crates of mysterious cargo on board.
Said mysterious cargo contains, naturally, a hibernating Dracula. Too bad for the crew on board the Demeter who aren’t aware of such ghoulish possibilities, with the ensemble of relatively interchangeable performers slowly succumbing to a more creature-like Dracula over time; director André Øvredal clearly enjoying himself as the blood and gore splatter increases as every minute of the film’s 118 minute running time ticks over.
Øvredal, a Norwegian filmmaker best known for other genre pieces as Trollhunter and Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark, is aware of how to utilise the atmosphere of mounting dread, and with The Last Voyage of the Demeter primarily playing out at night time, it’s almost consistently an uneasy watch once the crew is out to sea and, unbeknownst to them, Dracula is lurking in the literal shadows. Though there is an admittedly cyclical mentality to the film at times in how it sets up its stalk-and-kill sequences, it can’t help but be brutally effective in its execution. It’s also of immense benefit that the Demeter itself is practically its own character in how it is enhanced as the crew’s only form of shelter, whilst simultaneously housing them for their own death.
Of the crew, Corey Hawkins and Liam Cunningham earn the most noticeable points as Clemens, a doctor, and the ship’s captain, Eliot, respectively. Clemens is already something of a sore point to the crew, having made his way on board under questionable pretences, and, due to the 1890’s period, his ethnicity. It doesn’t help his case as a black man that he has befriended Anna (Aisling Franciosi), a stowaway, who poses a threat to the crew’s rations, but, more importantly, seems to be too aware of the undead passenger who strikes at every nightfall.
Whilst the general reaction to the role of a dark-skinned man and a woman in society at that time has topical relevance to today’s audience, The Last Voyage of the Demeter is never an overtly preachy film, nor does it delve deeply into any of the mythos around the Dracula incarnate. Unlike the usual human embodiments we see, Dracula here is modelled after the “Nosferatu” aesthetic, and any man-as-monster type narrative is done away with in favour of pure carnage. It may not be a horror effort with a lot of depth, but it plays to its strengths within its genre walls.
Unlike other portrayals of Dracula, the titular character here may not necessarily stay with you when all is said and done – nor will many of those on board – but as a collective horror film, one that brims with atmospheric uncertainty and well developed tension, Dracula: The Last Voyage of the Demeter is a serviceable scarer that leans into its genre possibilities with a straightforward brutality.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Dracula: The Last Voyage of the Demeter is now screening in Australian theatres. It will be released as The Last Voyage of the Demeter in theatres in the United States on August 11th, 2023.