At this point, horror fans have plenty of big screen adaptations of Bram Stoker’s classic novel, Dracula. Both Universal Studios and Hammer Films gave us beloved versions of the character. Filmmakers from Andy Warhol to Francis Ford Coppola to Werner Herzog have put their own twist on the iconic character. Prequels, sequels, comedies, animated versions – Dracula is synonymous with the genre. Now DreamWorks Pictures looks to put a different twist on the familiar tale. From the director of Trollhunter, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, The Last Voyage of the Demeter focuses on one specific chapter from Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
On a voyage from the ports of Bulgaria to England, the vessel The Demeter finds itself carrying several boxes of soil from Transylvania to Carfax Abbey in London, England. The benefactor remains unknown and the locals are terrified of the cargo. Once on sea, the crew of the Demeter quickly learn that the locals were right to be afraid. There’s a stowaway on the Demeter – neither a man nor an animal – that stalks them one by one.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter a Polished If Not Somewhat Sterile Affair
DreamWorks Pictures went all in on this pitch. All of the promotional materials leading up to its release this week have pushed this one hard. And the use of the Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’ was a masterstroke. Throw in the presence of Norwegian director André Øvredal and The Last Voyage of the Demeter had ‘late summer promise’ written all over it. Somehow the results are frustratingly middle-of-the-ground. On one hand, Øvredal crafts what often feels like an old-school take on the subject. For horror fans who are old enough, The Last Voyage of the Demeter sometimes feels like something Hammer Films might have made years ago. It’s relatively bloodless with scares that feel fun, predictable, and safe.
From just a technical standpoint, The Last Voyage of the Demeter is a polished affair fit for the big screen.
Those familiar with Øvredal’s The Autopsy of Jane Doe may be surprised that the Norwegian filmmaker foregoes atmosphere and tension for a ‘loud noises’ approach to horror. From just a technical standpoint, The Last Voyage of the Demeter is a polished affair fit for the big screen. Furthermore, Øvredal paces things well and adds some gravitas to a handful of scenes near the ends. But there’s also no denying that it always feel like there’s a better movie waiting to break out. There’s no denying that Demeter looks good and bristles with good ideas – like the tapping of wood on the ship – that never pans out to maximum effect. Despite Øvredal weaving in bits of slasher, supernatural, and action into the movie, The Last Voyage of the Demeter always feels like its one step forward, two steps back.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter Has a Great Cast, But Forgot To Give Its Dracula Some Personality
Maybe Øvredal’s take on the familiar story plays out with mixed results, but the cast is a cut above most August horror movies. Though his role is more supporting, character actor Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones, Let Us Prey, Dog Soldiers), is one of those performers who always elevates whatever role he’s occupying. All of the rest of the supporting cast is uniformly strong if not somewhat forgettable. Schut Jr. and Olkewicz’s screenplay fails to give these characters much in the way of distinguishable traits. But Corey Hawkins’ “Doctor Clemens” is more than compelling enough of a lead to carry the thriller’s more lackluster bits. And you may be wishing Aisling Franciosi’s (The Nightingale) ‘Anna’ had more screentime.
There’s just something wrong with a movie where Dracula has no discernible personality of which to speak.
In spite of its good cast, The Last Voyage of the Demeter creates a rather odd problem for itself. For a movie based on a ‘The Captain’s Log’ chapter from Stoker’s Dracula, the Dracula in this movie is pretty unremarkable. That’s not to say the visual effects and Javier Botet’s (Mara, Insidious: The Last Key, Slender Man) work under makeup isn’t impressive – like the rest of the movie’s visuals, Dracula looks quite impressive. Yet there’s also no denying that this Dracula never comes across as much more than a generic monster. There’s just something wrong with a movie where Dracula has no discernible personality of which to speak.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter Equal Parts Good, Frustrating
Somewhere in The Last Voyage of the Demeter was a very good blending of horror and action waiting to burst out. As it stands, Øvredal has made a Dracula re-imagining that looks fantastic even if it’s often underwhelming at the moments where it should soar. By its final act, Øvredal almost hits the right notes, but his approach too often gives in to big studio tendencies to ratchet up the volume in place of atmosphere and scares. And there’s something wrong when Dracula comes off as a generic monster. Maybe The Last Voyage of the Demeter holds back a bit for a potential sequel. But any sequel following Corey Hawkins’ Clemens pursuit of the legendary monster might make for a better movie.