Even when Dracula bites the dust, his name never dies. The same can be said about his brand recognition. We already got one Dracula movie earlier this year with Renfield starring Nicolas Cage. Although The Last Voyage of the Demeter is closer to a traditional Dracula movie, it does shake up the formula. Rather than adapt the entirety of Bram Stoker’s novel, this film solely draws inspiration from The Captain’s Log chapter. A feature film that stretches one chapter into two hours? Who directed this, Peter Jackson? Well, to be fair, Jackson probably would’ve made the movie three hours with a five-hour extended cut.
Director André Øvredal does bring a gothic visual eye to The Last Voyage of the Demeter, which gives away the ending in its title. If the title isn’t already an indication of the titular ship’s fate, the Captain (Liam Cunningham) mentions early on that he’s one voyage away from retirement. The Captain’s crew includes Corey Hawkins as a noble doctor, David Dastmalchian as the rugged first mate, and several others who are just there to be bitten. That said, they should’ve checked the cargo before setting sail. It isn’t long until they find a stowaway named Anna (Aisling Franciosi), who warns them that evil is onboard. Enter Dracula… about an hour into the film.
Setting a Dracula film on a ship is an inspired approach to the source material. We’ve seen so many horror movies that take place in haunted houses and castles, which the characters can usually leave at any time. Taking place in the middle of the ocean, The Last Voyage of the Demeter adds another level of claustrophobia to the equation. When co-screenwriter Bragi Schut Jr. started conceiving this idea almost two decades ago, he had an Alien story in mind. Funnily enough, Noomi Rapace was attached to the project, but she dropped out to star in Prometheus. While the potential is present, there’s one major element that separates Alien from this movie: pacing.
The main plot of Alien occurs over several hours, never letting the audience breathe. The Last Voyage of the Demeter unfolds over several days with Dracula disappearing whenever the sun goes up. Where is Dracula hiding? It’s never explained, but in any case, this slows the momentum down. Although the action picks up when the sun sets, Dracula isn’t the most compelling villain. Whether portrayed by Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman, and even Mr. Cage, Dracula is one of the most charismatic foes in horror. Here, he’s just a senseless beast with no personality. Granted, the practical effects and prosthetic makeup are damn impressive with Javier Botet giving another committed performance. However, he looks more like one of Dracula’s minions rather than the King of Vampires.
This might be acceptable if the human characters were more interesting. While the leads aren’t unlikable, we’re not given much reason to be invested in any of them. The actors all do what they can with the hollow dialogue, but the characters all lack bite. The Last Voyage of the Demeter is thus more style than substance. Fans of the genre might be sucked in by the film’s haunting production values and eerie atmosphere. If you’re looking for a story that brings something genuinely fresh to the Dracula mythos, there are glimpses of inspiration. The film just doesn’t sink its teeth far enough in.