By Josh Reilly B. & George Bate
Over the years, adaptations of Bram Stoker’s iconic Dracula novel have come in various forms. Some have taken a more faithful, traditional approach to portraying the events of the story on film, such as Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film. There have also been some wacky, subversive takes on the character, the most recent of which was Renfield, which focused on Dracula’s assistant rather than the vampire himself.
The sheer amount of Dracula films and shows over the years means that it’s relatively difficult to provide a unique and fresh take on the iconic character, but that’s exactly where The Last Voyage of the Demeter comes in. André Øvredal’s latest film strikes a balance between remaining faithful to the original source material while still crafting its own narrative. The way that this achieved is through the film’s decidedly novel premise; The Last Voyage of the Demeter is an adaption of The Captain’s Log, a chapter from the 1897 novel that documents Draculas travels from Romania to England. Liam Cunningham stars as the captain of the ship and is joined by David Dastmalchian, Aisling Franciosi, and Corey Hawkins, who is the lead of the film as Dr. Clemens.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter is carried by and stands apart through its premise, which finally provides a dark and unique tale for Dracula to appear in. It’s an adaption of the novel, yes, but the focus hones in on a portion of the story that is often glossed over, or at the very least not afforded the amount of time that this film gives it. Several studios and writers have attempted to get this film off the ground after an initial spec script was written in the 1990s, which goes to show the obvious potential many have believed the story holds.
In some ways, the film lives up to the potential of its promising premise. Director Øvredal tells an atmospheric, contained horror story about a ship that is ultimately doomed to fall at the hands of one of the most famous fictional villains of all time, and the characters are intriguing enough for the audience to become invested in. Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton, The Walking Dead) delivers an assured and empathic performance as the lead hero, a University of Cambridge graduate who faces obstacles in his career as a physician due to racial prejudice. Hawkins is a solid lead (if one can overlook his spotty English accent). Game of Thrones‘ Liam Cunningham has one of the more significant side character roles as the narrator of the film and the captain of the titular Demeter, meaning that his character is the key connection to the original chapter in the Dracula novel. Just as he proved in Game of Thrones, Cunningham is more than capable of playing a very real, sympathetic character that exists within a heightened fictional world.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter does, however, fall short with some of its most crucial horror moments. The layout of the ship is shown well, which gives a promising start to setting up future scares, but these scenes are often too predictable and mundane to be considered noteworthy. That being said, there are a few jump scares that work in this film, and the director’s usage of loud and abrupt sounds as Dracula attacks contributes significantly to that success. Jump scares are increasingly becoming some of the hardest tasks to tackle in horror stories as audiences are so accustomed to expecting them within a film such as this. So, while these spooky moments in The Last Voyage of the Demeter aren’t exactly anything to write home about, they are still modestly successful.
The most interesting (and, unfortunately, misguided) creative choice that this film takes is by choosing to tell this story as a creature horror rather than about a more traditional vampire film. Here, the iconic Dracula is reduced to the role of a wild animal for the crew to contend with. It essentially plays out like a monster movie or even a slasher in which a group of people are systematically eliminated from an evil presence lurking in the shadows. This approach, while nicely contributing to the film’s spooky atmosphere, unfortunately takes away some of the most captivating aspects of Dracula as a charm. The charm and uniqueness of Dracula as a villain are essentially stripped away in order to tell a more straightforward monster film, which again feels like a missed opportunity.
The first act of the movie employs a methodological and slow-burn approach that yields dread and suspense in equal measure. But, with its structure as a monster/creature film, The Last Voyage of the Demeter eventually adopts an all too familiar narrative pattern in which the crew members keep dying at the hands of the villain before the sun rises and the surviving characters, in turn, investigate. From there, they debate the cause of these deaths in a frustratingly slow manner, all of which contributes to the film feeling too repetitive at times, Some of those issues have to do with the film’s pacing with the story skipping forward to nighttime at an increasingly fast speed as the story goes on. This creates a pattern of the same type of scenes playing out mere minutes apart, as the death of one character is quickly followed by the same thing happening to another. Collectively, these issues with pacing and repetition make The Last Voyage of the Demeter drag to the finish line of its 118 minute runtime. A more compact, concisely told script would have benefitted the film greatly.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter is a premise-driven horror film that provides a unique twist on a Dracula story by focusing on just one chapter of the original novel. A spooky atmosphere and contained location story render an entertaining, albeit poorly pacing horror film that doesn’t quite capitalize on the potential of its fantastic premise. Despite some issues in execution, director Øvredal delivers a Dracula story that is worthy of a watch and serves as a novel (pun intended) chapter of the ever-growing assembly of Dracula adaptations.