Review of 'The Last Voyage of the Demeter': Dracula has risen
'The Last Voyage of the Demeter' is a surprising horror film that revitalizes the figure of Dracula.
I confess: one of my little-known pleasures is to walk into a movie theater to watch a film about which I have no information or expectations, and upon leaving the theater, a smile of satisfaction appears on my face. Many times I end up with a resounding disappointment, but occasionally, as happened to me recently with 'The Last Voyage of the Demeter,' I applaud my intrepid cinephile soul for the decisions it often makes.
My only information about the movie was its title. And as I sat in the cinema seat, I began to vaguely recall that in a chapter of Bram Stoker's novel 'Dracula,' this voyage of the Demeter ship from Transylvania to London was recounted. In fact, ever since I read the book in my adolescence, Dracula became my favorite monster. I confirmed this when I watched the Universal Classic Monsters and Hammer Films. And, logically, Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 version of Stoker's novel, with the splendid Gary Oldman playing the beloved count, was one of the most important treasures in my video library.
However, the terrible adaptations of Dracula that have come out in the 21st century have left me profoundly indifferent. This year alone, 'Renfield' with the enormous Nicolas Cage was released, and although the film has its entertaining moments, I left the cinema with the same detachment that a vampire has from sunlight. Therefore, in addition to having little information, my expectations for this film were extremely low, which made me think I would spend a couple of hours with a sour face, but oh boy, was I in for a huge surprise!
Set in 1897, the film begins as the Demeter is about to set sail from Transylvania with a crew led by Captain Eliot (Liam Cunningham). Among his companions are First Officer Wojchek (David Dastmalchian), his grandson Toby (Woody Norman), and Clemens (Corey Hawkins), who is recruited as the ship's doctor. His knowledge proves useful when one of the crates accidentally opens, revealing an apparent stowaway (Aisling Franciosi) with a mysterious illness that requires numerous blood transfusions.
Strange things begin to happen on the ship. All the livestock on board and Toby's beloved dog are sacrificed over a horrifying night. Sailors start to see and hear strange things during their night shifts, and even the ship's rats seem to have disappeared. Crew members begin to vanish, and paranoia and mystery about a monstrous figure, invisible to all, steadily increase throughout the plot. When Anna, the stowaway, helps reveal who this monster is, the few remaining survivors try to figure out how to stop it before reaching London.
The scenes filled with mystery and tension during each night as the crew members try to uncover the hidden figure lurking in the shadows are masterfully directed by André Øvredal, the Norwegian filmmaker and writer behind this film, who has already given us great works in the horror genre such as the underrated 'Troll Hunter' (2010), 'Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark' (2019), and 'The Autopsy of Jane Doe' (2016), probably one of the genre's standout films in the last decade.
This time, Øvredal seeks to tell a story in which the audience is ahead of the characters on the screen practically every moment. To achieve this, he focuses primarily on visual style, creating a eerie and haunted atmosphere - even during daytime scenes - that is hauntingly beautiful and chilling. Without exaggeration, 'The Last Voyage of the Demeter' is one of the most captivating horror films of recent years.
The cat-and-mouse games between Dracula and the crew are staged in a way that suggests a nautical variation of 'Alien,' with the director using the scenes to build maximum tension before culminating in gruesome murders that warranted this film an R rating. Furthermore, the portrayal of Dracula shown here is a particularly grotesque and demonic variation that closely resembles those monstrous figures we didn't get to know in the horror gem 'The Descent' (2005) by Neil Marshall.
'The Last Voyage of the Demeter' may not become a classic in the annals of Dracula cinema, in the vein of Terence Fisher's Hammer film 'Dracula' or Werner Herzog's version of 'Nosferatu the Vampyre,' nor does it come close to the impact of Francis Ford Coppola's aforementioned 'Bram Stoker's Dracula.' However, I can tell you that this film is an intelligent, well-made, and at times genuinely spine-chilling take on the story, which both horror enthusiasts and regular moviegoers who enjoy action and adventure can appreciate alike.
To wrap up, I discovered on Twitter the opinion of a filmmaker I adore and greatly admire, Guillermo del Toro, upon leaving the cinema. The Mexican director said that 'The Last Voyage of the Demeter' struck him as "beautiful, splendid, and wild," three adjectives that perfectly sum up this very good feature film that will likely pass by the country's cinema screens without much fanfare. However, if you are reading this article, I invite you to give it a chance. I believe you won't regret it.
- Director: André Øvredal
- Screenplay: Bragi F. Schut, Zak Olkewicz
- Duration: 118 minutes
- Genre: Horror, Supernatural
- Producers: Bradley J. Fischer, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messner
- Cast: Corey Hawkins, Aisling Franciosi, Liam Cunningham, David Dastmalchian
- Cinematography: Tom Stern
- Editing: Patrick Larsgaard
- Music: Bear McCreary
- Country: Italy, United States, Germany
- Year: 2023
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