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'The Last Voyage of the Demeter' Is A Nightmare, And Not Because of Dracula

Sailing Into Severe Spoiler Territory…

The Last Voyage of the Demeter is a story about Dracula from Bram’s Stoker’s Dracula but evidently has nothing really to do with Dracula at all. This movie was directed by André Øvredal, a Norwegian director. Øvredal has directed Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark, The Troll Hunter and The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Personally, I’ve always thought Norwegian filmmakers and TV creators were generally ahead of the game. For a brief period, I was into Norwegian shows and movies, so I always get a little excited when I screen something directed by a Norwegian. This movie, however, was not exciting at all.

It mostly has to do with the story, which is loosely based on a real chapter from the original book, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s a tragic tale, and I say tragic because we all know Dracula makes it from Point A to Point B of this voyage… otherwise we wouldn’t have the widely known story we have… so viewers go into the movie knowing very well that these characters won’t be successful in vanquishing him. Which, to me, is extremely fun. I love when a series or movie tells me going into it that there were no survivors because from the moment the project begins, there’s a sense of immortality or permanence to the story… like you’re being let in on something nobody else will ever encounter or experience or even hear about because nobody survived to tell the story. But this movie doesn’t really do that either… because somebody other than Dracula survives. So I guess the journal they find at port and the Captain’s narration during the whole movie is, essentially, pointless!

One could argue this movie does have a main character, although they don’t give us much of a backstory on this person. Dr. Clemens, who is well acted by Corey Hawkins, is a doctor who defied the odds after being allowed to study medicine at the University of Cambridge despite his skin colour. Because of this he is a very confident character, but we never really see his past, his struggles or something that makes us really feel that triumph. He just tells us about it, so when he survives the voyage it begs the question: Why should I care?

Clemens preaches plenty about how he doesn’t need money or purpose… he just wants life to make sense to him. Which is clearly never going to happen since he gets trapped on a boat with a literal vampire. Like Clemens, the other characters are strictly two dimensional. They each have a pillar of their character they cling to, and there’s not much else that’s ever explored. We don’t know about Clemens’ parents, his family, his loved ones. We just know he’s an unemployed doctor trying to get to London.

We don’t know anything about Anna either, besides that she boarded the Demeter alongside 'the devil'. She’s supposedly from a village that’s been long terrorized by Dracula, but this village doesn’t have a name. It doesn’t have a story. We don’t ever see it. We hear life was tough for them because Dracula’s castle was on the top of the hill. That’s all we get. And she knows how to shoot a gun—presumably because of past face offs with Dracula in said village, but we don’t see that either. We just get a lot of people strolling around in the dark, calling out for each other, and believing that literally anything other than what’s causing these deaths is what’s causing these deaths. At the beginning of the movie, the Demeter’s about to sail and one of the sailors sees notes emblem branded onto the crates: a seal with a dragon on it. He immediately panics, refusing to sail, saying the emblem is a bad omen and they’re inviting evil aboard. Weeks into the voyage, when the crew members start to die, it isn’t until the last possible second that they wonder, “You know... maybe that guy had a point".

I am a huge fan of Dracula. Except, it’s not really Dracula who gets trapped on this ship with them. Allow me to explain. From the trailers, I suspected this would be a creature flick but I expected an explanation along the lines of... Dracula being in a feral state, underfed and between meals. We don’t know why he’s leaving Transylvania in the first place—is he injured or weak? Did something happen to drive him away? Has he always been this winged monster? There’s really no explanation as to why he is in this form. He just is. In fact, Anna tells us Dracula always looks like this bat-monster but can dress up and walk around like a man. There’s no charm or vampire magic that surrounds this rendition of Dracula, but everybody has different interpretations of the character. In this movie, Dracula's not a man, but a monster! They claim he has no human sentience or agency other than a primal need to feed. Except, not really, because he can talk. And he clearly relishes his kills. And walks out of the pub at the end with a cane and a top hat. It seems like he has some sort of sentience and mortal agency, especially by the end of the movie, so which is it? Is he a man or monster?

Everyone! There’s a man eating bat monster on the boat with us who burns in the sun! I know what we should do. Let's wait until sundown every night and then plan our attack!

For the people out there who’ll say Oh, but the length of the voyage is over a month. They have to stretch out the action! No, they don’t. I actually would’ve preferred if the crew had completed the majority of their voyage and by the time we met them, the rations were low and tensions were high. Maybe some were going stir crazy… throw a psychological aspect in the plot. We would’ve gotten a lot more time to learn about these characters and see how this journey has affected them, molded them, changed them... what it means for them to make it to London. Place two girls in the coffin with Dracula instead of one who gets out instantly, this way he’s fed dormant for the duration of the voyage. Who knows.. perhaps Dracula’s mere presence could’ve driven the crew mad, inciting mistrust and discourse between them. And then Dracula shows up. His arrival tests all of their relationships, who would die for who, all of that characterization from this long voyage put into action. A real threat to their relationships. To their purposes. To their survivals. Now that’s interesting.

I understand they needed Anna to provide backstory on the monster, but that story elements can be present without making the story itself unrealistic. These people are on the Demeter for over a month and it isn’t until the night they arrive at port that the final showdown against Dracula transpires? Why not have one of the girls fully drained by the last night of the voyage, forcing Dracula out of his coffin to feed... or chasing the one remaining girl with a sole desire for her blood, leading to one hellish night for the crew? This would’ve put the humans in a bind for time, knowing they’d have to kill Dracula before the Demeter arrives at port or else he’d be free. It also puts Dracula under strain, knowing he has to survive the night. That’s real tension. That’s real conflict. That’s a real story.

This movie suffers somewhat due to the lack of attention it pays to its main characters, Dracula included. We know Anna comes from a village that was so horrifically terrorized by Dracula that there’s “no one left to feed on” and yet when she’s telling Clemens that Dracula’s on board with them, she’s casually washing her hands. Yeah, that monster who killed all of my people and fed on me for months? He’s here somewhere. How was this girl so put together in explaining this lifelong trauma? What a missed opportunity to drive the fear surrounding Dracula’s reputation home. I would’ve preferred if she was still shaken up, trembling, living through that fear so that we could feel it too.

There wasn’t a single moment during this movie when I was afraid. This movie is a supercut of cheap jump scares and movie tropes that any avid movie lover will easily predict upon viewing. Meaning, this isn’t going to be a very exciting watch for you. There are two aspects of the film that stand out, the concept and the production design, but both of those things (regardless of how impressive they are) aren’t enough to save it from its story and characters. The second act of the film is the same scene over and over again. A character stands watch at night on the boat... hears a noise or sees something suspicious... walks around in the dark calling out Petrovsky! or Clemens! and the scene ends in a predictable jump scare. The scenes that end in gruesome kills are the most exciting bits of the movie.

I’ve heard other critics say they enjoyed the kills in this movie. There isn't anything particularly frightening about them beyond how Dracula looks. He’s absolutely terrifying, especially when he’s standing upright. But the kills in this movie also don’t correlate with what they’re trying to tell us about Dracula and his single motivation, which is to feed. He kills half of the crew by slicing them with his claws or taking a single bite from their neck. He’s not really feeding… he’s just taking one chomp out of everybody on board. These sailors are bleeding out on the deck of this boat, leaking full pints, and you expect me to somehow also believe that Dracula’s draining everybody of their blood? For being the most famous vampire in the world, it seems like he’s pretty bad at being one!

Right away I knew what kind of movie this was going to be solely based on how they started it. The first thing you see are written prompts emerging onscreen, establishing the setting and saying something along the lines of This is the story of the Demeter and its crew...

We know that, thank you. That’s why we’re here.

And in regards to how this movie ends… it’s a total trope of the times. Instead of giving us a mediocre movie with a jaw dropping ending, The Last Voyage of the Demeter spends a lot of time fumbling in the dark, trying to choose a cohesive direction for its story but eventually ending the film with a very forward set up for a sequel. You could argue Clemens is out for revenge because Dracula killed Anna, but the film didn’t necessarily explore a genuine relationship between her and Clemens either. It all felt too discombobulated, which I didn’t really expect from this film. One of the writers is Zak Olkwicz, who wrote Bullet Train, Fear Street: 1978 and Lights Out. All very well written movies. Same with his co-writer, Bragi F. Schut, who wrote the Escape Room movies, which I believe are super underrated. So how did two such great and creative minds give us something so dull and uninteresting?

This concept had so much potential, so much weight to it… I would’ve loved to see somebody like Robert Eggers take this concept on. Eggers did The Northman and The VVitch. Maybe Guillermo, or even Mike Flanagin. There was so much potential due to this excerpt of Dracula’s tale rarely ever being told. But the result was a luke-warm creature feature with little pay off and even less character development. No disrespect to the filmmakers of this movie, but I don’t think The Last Voyage of the Demeter is worth seeing in theatres... but if you’re a vampire lover and a fan of pirates and stories at sea, you might love it more than I did!


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