From the very moment I read an article about this film, I knew I wanted to see it. It is based on a single chapter in the book Dracula and had not ever been explored on screen before. I was hopeful from the trailers and descriptions that the writing and performances would create something different within the mythology of vampires. After watching, I found my initial impressions confirmed. The movie excels at creating a doomed atmosphere with suspenseful pacing and has stellar performances from the entire cast. The film is horrific to the end.
“The Last Voyage of the Demeter” is a supernatural horror film directed by André Øvredal and written by Bragi F. Schut Jr. and Zak Olkewicz. It is an adaptation of “The Captain’s Log”, a chapter from the 1897 Bram Stoker novel Dracula. The plot follows the doomed crew of the merchant ship Demeter as they attempt to survive the treacherous sea voyage from Romania to London while being stalked by a vampire known only as Dracula. In the story, Captain Elliot (Liam Cunningham) stops in Romania to pick up his cargo, 50 wooden crates. Short on crew, his first mate Wojcheck (David Dastmalchian) recruits men to join them including Clemens (Corey Hawkins), a doctor. A few days into the voyage, Clemens finds a strange woman in a crate that is broken open, Anna (Aisling Franciosi) who is ailing from a strange infection. He is able to give her transfusions to save her life but afterwards, the crew begins to notice strange events, like the rats disappearing and animals dying. One by one the crew is hunted down and the only question is if they can stop Dracula before they reach the shores of England. Javier Botet plays Dracula in the film.
What the film excels at above everything is creating a suspenseful atmosphere. The writing uses small details like the rats disappearing to heighten the tension. The writing maintains that pace by adding foreshadowing like the locals wishing the crew luck and the dragon on top of one of the crates. These tiny details add nuance and that tension ratchets up at a steady rate, increasing the sense of claustrophobic doom and horror to the events on the ship. Those details include the design of Dracula, very much referencing Nosferatu and hearkening back to older films, giving him a truly monstrous form. It also uses some of the tropes of vampires, like fog, dirt in the crates and the sun to good effect to keep the mood of the movie.
Part of what makes the details sell that horror so well is that the film leans into the Dracula legend and uses it to create a truly spooky and creepy mood. They do this by the use of lighting that heightens the more horror filled moments, dark ship corridors, shadows at odd angles, and locked rooms. Daylight gives a sense of reprieve but heightens that the night will bring darkness. Fog is used to heighten the suspense and limit the ability to see Dracula as he hunts. Sound is also used to good effect, with repeated sounds or lack of animals, silence in moments when there should be noise. The soundtrack reinforces the pacing and tension perfectly.
The performances shine in this film. In the role of Clemens, Corey Hawkins portrays his character with complexity, full of hidden depths and fearlessness. He is himself mysterious but knowledgeable. His performance is powerful and his charisma with Aisling Franciosi who plays Anna is dynamic and adds to the thrill of the action scenes. Aisling Franciosi’s performance is excellent as she plays a strong character willing to fight. Liam Cunningham is emotional especially in the scenes with Woody Norman who plays his grandson Toby. Their scenes are impactful, especially with the circumstances of the film. David Dastmalchian is superb as Wojcheck, the character suspicious but fiercely defensive of his crew and ship. What really is compelling is that even the secondary characters are three dimensional with performances that make you care about each one of the crew, even knowing they are doomed.
If there is any lack, it is just that. We know from the very beginning what the outcome is. But the film leans into that and uses that idea to give an unexpected ending. In between there aren’t many scares but there are spooky and horrific moments that will make your skin crawl. The film gives you the crash of the ship right from the beginning to add to the sense of doom for the crew. So while the film isn’t truly fear inducing, it is suspenseful and the tension is almost perfect from beginning to end.
If you like new material within the legend of Dracula, this film adds a unique perspective, one that hasn’t been utilized before. If you like old school vampires, especially Nosferatu, you will appreciate the monstrous form of Dracula. And if you like suspense, you will love the atmosphere and mood. This film maintains the horror to the end, giving horrific scenes and spooky elements that will keep you on the edge of your seat. And the ending is incredibly intriguing and stellar. This horror is worth watching for all the creepy details.
Rating: 4 out of 5 knock, knocks