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  • Writer's pictureRob Binns

The Last Voyage of the Demeter (2023) Review

"The faster we eat them, the less I have to clean up!"

I find films with foregone conclusions oddly fascinating.

You know, movies like Matthijs van Heijningen Jr’s 2011 prequel-slash-remake of The Thing. That film fleshes out the story of what happened to the doomed crew members we see at the beginning of John Carpenter’s original 1982 film before they met a grisly, explosive end.

I love the concept because of its natural circularity, for one – but also because of its world building aspects. Diving back into a movie's mythology to find out how that one small slice of it fed into the narrative of that film I already love so much; a chance to modernise and nostalgic in one fell swoop. A chance not to be passed up, right?

Well, fascinating, I said – but frustrating all the same. Because I like the concept of these types of films; the principle. But in practice, they never seem to be very good.

Why? Because, by the very nature of their existence, these films spoil themselves. We know, from minute one, that the inhabitants of that Antarctic research station won’t make it out alive, or that the crew of that ship will be dead by dawn. From the beginning, we’re not fretting about who’ll survive and who’ll perish. Because we know that no one does.

Starting this review with some protracted pontification about The Thing (2011) – which, to my point, flopped critically and commercially – is a long way of coming to my actual point.

That The Last Voyage of the Demeter (also known by its more SEO-friendly title, Dracula: Voyage of the Demeter) simply isn’t very good.

But why? On paper, this should rock.

It’s lifted from one of the most disturbing, haunting passages of one of the most disturbing, haunting books in classic horror. (Not to mention classic literature as a whole). It’s set in a cramped, claustrophobic space with minimal places to run. (Because at sea, no one can hear you scream.) And, it has a solid cast: with David Dastmalchian (of The Boogeyman (2023) fame), The Walking Dead alum Corey Hawkins, and Aisling Franciosi (who was good in The Fall) joining Cunningham as the ship’s doomed denizens.

Oh, and Javier Botet – the 6’ 7” genre legend responsible for creating nightmares in *breathes in* Rec, It, Annabelle: Creation, Alien Covenant, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, The Conjuring 2, Insidious: The Last Key, His House, and Crimson Peak, among others – is in it too, playing the vampire!

These are all good things. So what went wrong?

close up of the ship Demeter in The Last Voyage of the Demeter

The Demeter, named after the Ancient Greek goddess of the harvest, sets out to sea.

Well, like the film itself – which opens on a dark night, with the titular vessel washing up on England’s southern shores, deserted – our The Last Voyage of the Demeter review started at the end of this film’s doomed voyage. Let’s follow the film’s lead, then, and trace the Demeter’s (nautically and narratively) ill-fated journey from the beginning.

After the opening exchanges of that framing device scene in England when the captain’s log (narrated in the gravelly tones of Liam Cunningham, who was really born to play the captain of a ship) is discovered, we’re soon thrust back in time to Varna, a Bulgarian port town.

The month is July, the year 1897, and a man called Clemens is desperate for work. So when a ship led by Cunningham’s Captain Eliot and his henchman Wojchek (Dastmalchian) rolls into town, looking for crew, Clemens jumps at the chance. Literally, in fact, by saving Eliot’s grandson Toby (Woody Norman) from being crushed by a falling crate. Anyways, 15 minutes into the film and all you need to know is this: the ship called the Demeter is heading to London with not only Clemens and co on board – but a suspicious lot of cargo, too.

 Liam Cunningham as Captain Eliot on deck in The Last Voyage of the Demeter

Game of Thrones alum Liam Cunningham plays the eponymous ship's captain, Eliot.

Day soon turns to night, the Demeter’s on its way, and there’s a handful of scenes introducing us to the other crewmates. Yet we also get the feeling – this being both a monster movie where the cast is picked off one by one, and given we already know what happens to the ship – that none will last very long. Yet it also seems like the movie knows that we know this, so it shrugs its shoulders and doesn’t worry too much about anything like introducing us to characters we care about, or acquainting us to any seamen whose names we can remember.

David Dastmalchian as Wojchek in The Last Voyage of the Demeter

Not you, David! We remember you!

But who needs character development when you’ve got VAMPIRES?! Right?! In this case, it’s Dracula of course, and it turns out he’s been stowed away and feeding off a local woman, Franciosi’s Anna, to tide him over on the long journey.

The crew find her, exhausted and drained of blood, and Clemens begins giving her transfusions to get her back to fighting health. This – perhaps understandably – gets Dracula’s back up, and he begins to lay waste to the crew as the movie unfolds.

Aisling Franciosi as Anna in The Last Voyage of the Demeter

Aisling Franciosi as Anna, Dracula's muesli bar for the international sojourn.

I’m reluctant to recap the plot of The Last Voyage of the Demeter beat for beat – that would be doing it too much justice, and I already spent too much time writing about The Thing (2011) in the intro – but it’s throwaway. Night comes, Dracula feeds; a crew member is snatched away into the night, or drained of their sanguinity; the crew squabble in the morning, blaming animals, then ghosts, then whatever. Rinse, repeat, recycle.

Liam Cunningham's Captain Eliot is struggling in The Last Voyage of the Demeter

Captain Eliot could also do with a good rinse!

The director, Andre Øvredal – known for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019), The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016), and Trollhunter (2010) feels like he's going through the motions in the name of a fat paycheck, and it shows. The film floats along, as devoid of passion and life as that poor sailor – I forget his name – that time he was drained of his blood and dumped unceremoniously into the sea. R.I.P. Whatshisface.

Woody Norman as Toby in The Last Voyage of the Demeter (2023)

Woody Norman as Toby, the captain's grandson.

It’s not all bad, sure. There are a couple of tense scenes, and a couple of character deaths that come as a genuine shock. (And which I won’t spoil here, given they’re the movie's main drawcards.) The creature stuff is pretty well done, for the most part, too – despite a bit of goofiness here and there. The Last Voyage of the Demeter presents Dracula as a winged, batlike creature, jumping and flying around the rain-slicked deck after midnight. There’s none of Gary Oldman’s charm-oozing gentleman, of Edward Cullen’s beauty or Bela Lugosi’s iconic performance. A lot of CGI, though – at least for the longer shots.

Javier Botet up close as Dracula in The Last Voyage of the Demeter (2023)

Javier Botet up close as Dracula in The Last Voyage of the Demeter (2023).

I guess one of my other bugbears with this movie – and you’ll groan here, given it’s a vampire movie and all – is simply how dark it is. I watched this with my girlfriend on a projector on a long weekend away in Rye, near Melbourne, and it was almost unwatchable. (I thought it was just the projector, but it was still that difficult to see on my TV back at home.)

Dark movies aren’t a dealbreaker, of course – I review horror, so they can’t be – but, given the lack of memorable characters and the shaky story, knowing what was going on in all those action scenes sure would’ve helped. (By the way, my girlfriend fell asleep two scenes in.)

A raft burns in the sea in The Last Voyage of the Demeter (2023).

That fire in the middle of the screen there is this motion picture.

Finally (then I’ll stop) it baffled me that the ending so blatantly attempted to set this thing up for a sequel. The final scene has one of the main characters pursuing the titular bloodsucker (now human, I guess, but it looks like the filmmakers just slapped the creature version of Dracula in a suit) through the city.

“And so,” our surviving character claims, “I will pursue this foul beast and I swear by those who’ve given their lives that I will extinguish this blight – and send it back to hell.”

My issue? It sounds like they’re trying to set up a whole franchise, let alone a second film! Given the lack of (planning? Gusto? Quality? Effort?) whatever was so obviously missing in the last hour and a half or so I’d watched, it felt presumptive – if downright arrogant – to see this thing trumpeted like a TV pilot in such a heavy-handed fashion.

And, given the film failed to earn back even half of what it took to make it – $21.7 million at the box office against a $45 million budget – I doubt we’ll be seeing this particular iteration of the iconic bloodsucker back on our screens anytime soon.

Meaning that, thankfully, the Demeter's last voyage might really be its last.

What did you think of The Last Voyage of the Demeter, then? Let me know in the comments below, and don't fly off into the night without checking out some of my other reviews of other horror films from 2023: including Brooklyn 45, Malum, and Talk to Me.

And, if you read ALL THIS and still want to watch Dracula's latest foray onto the big screen, you can catch The Last Voyage of the Demeter (2023) on YouTube, Amazon Prime, or Google Play Movies & TV for $19.99. Steep though, if you ask me.

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