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The Last Voyage of the Demeter (2023)

Basically a short story stretched out into a full-length movie, The Last Voyage of the Demeter struggles to fill the empty pages.
Our Rating

Genre(s): Horror, Fantasy

Director: André Øvredal

Actors: Corey Hawkins, Aisling Franciosi, Liam Cunningham, David Dastmalchian, Woody Norman, Stefan Kapicic

Year: 2023

MPAA Rating: R

Country: USA

The Last Voyage of the Demeter piqued my interest because it had two of my favorite genres in one: religious/supernatural horror and a tall-masted ship on a voyage of doom. Even better, Last Voyage is based on Bram Stoker’s own well-worn tale of Dracula, evoking images of the classic Nosferatu with fleeting glimpses of the demon lurking on the hell-bound ship.

But unlike other adaptations of what is basically a short story (Last Voyage is based on what amounts to a 16-page chapter in Dracula), the filmmakers don’t make much of an effort to flesh out what is obviously a juicy but small part of the lore.

Taking place almost entirely at sea on the ship Demeter, Last Voyage introduces the Russian cargo ship’s small crew as they pick up a mysterious dragon-emblazoned crate in a port in Carpathia in order to deliver it to England. The locals cross themselves as they scurry off, unwilling to help even hoist it aboard, and in the chaos a Black British doctor, Mr. Clemons (Corey Hawkins), entreats himself enough to the Captain (Liam Cunningham) to earn a job on the ship as a hand-for-hire.

There is not much reason to talk about the characters onboard, for as soon as they leave port it is clear there is evil aboard the ship. The livestock are violently slaughtered overnight, and soon crewmembers, who are for the most part interchangeable bearded white guys with indeterminant “European” accents, are picked off as well. Even for a trained doctor like Clemons, there is not much that a needle and thread can do to help a guy whose throat is ripped open. There’s even a single female in the cast who is initially suspected as a stowaway. But once she starts talking, it is clear she is simply there to explain the lore of Dracula to the terrified doomed men, and give some context to this Cliff Notes‘ chapter of the book. Oh, and there is an adorable kid with an enviable mop of perfect curls.

In a monster movie, the terror lies in what you can’t see. In this case, showing the beast too soon works against it… Let’s just say that when I got my first glimpse of the “demon,” I immediately thought, “My precious!” This Dracula seems to be a distracting mix of Golum and Nosferatu (albeit with many more pointy teeth). I kept thinking about how the Netflix show Midnight Mass (which is a fantastic series, by the way) had a similar-looking monster terrorizing a town, and that one was absolutely terrifying.

I’m not exactly sure what else was lacking in making The Last Voyage of the Demeter as scary as I was hoping, considering the classic source material. Maybe its the inevitability of the story. After all, the first scene leaves little for surprise, showing the doomed, ravaged ship washing up on the coast in Whitby, England. Or maybe the script and the lack of character development. It is a good-looking film, but that can only get you so far.

But I will say this: I’m now completely enamored with Liam Cunningham’s gorgeous voice. It’s resonant and noble, with more than a note of the world-weariness of a man who knows he is on his last voyage–I scrambled afterwards to see why I didn’t recognize the Captain. (Dangit, turns out he’s another reason that I should finish Game of Thrones!) Cunningham is pretty much the only actor that made any impression on me in this good-looking but forgettable story. By the end of the film, I was distracted and frustrated, so I amused myself by concocting another scenario: I could just re-immerse myself in the Dracula tale, but via an audiobook with Liam Cunningham narrating. Now THAT would be worth it!

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