When I saw the promotion for The Last Voyage of the Demeter, I may have judged the movie by its poster … or the book by its metaphorical cover, if you will. While the film presents an intriguing narrative, yours truly was skeptical. Would this bring anything new to already well-traveled vampire lore? Or will viewers be left looking for some garlic and a crucifix of their very own? Read on.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter expands on the story of “The Demeter.” First explored in Bram Stoker‘s Dracula, the tale follows the history of a ghost ship washed up on the English coast. Who put it there? Dracula, of course! The movie attempts to fill in some of the narratives typically left shrouded in mystery. Corey Hawkins, Aisling Franciosi, Liam Cunningham and David Dastmalchian co-star in the film. André Øvredal directs The Last Voyage of the Demeter from a script by Bragi F. Schut and Zak Olkewicz.
A filmmaker with solid roots in horror, André Øvredal sinks his teeth into The Last Voyage of the Demeter with a carefully crafted stylistic eye. Much of the film taps into a moody vibe deeply reminiscent of cinematic horror at its most classic. Viewers who enjoy the works of creators like Val Lewton and James Whale will find a lot to like here.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter shines when the film embraces the unknown in the narrative. This is a vivid, terrifying world shrouded in thick fog. In fact, watching the movie, I found myself repeatedly struck by how incredible it would look had they shot in black and white. There’s an aspect to this work that feels timeless. It’s of another era. In certain shots, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine Bela Lugosi stepping out from around a dark corner. I’ll say it; I want to see a black-and-white director’s cut.
However, this classical stylization leads to tonal inconsistencies when The Last Voyage of the Demeter leans into its overt horror elements. Dracula’s creature design is perhaps attempting to conjure memories of Nosferatu. As I watched, however, I was continually reminded of Van Helsing, a film in which I loved everything … except the creature design.
Interestingly, despite the R rating, the kills are left largely off-screen. Don’t get me wrong; there’s just enough blood and gore to remind viewers this is a contemporary film. I mean, this is a vampire movie, after all.
At the same time, though, much of the horror comes at audiences through an emphasis on “jump scares.” To make matters worse, they are often very telegraphed jump scares. Kids, yours truly is often a jumpy horror viewer, and even I was able to see a lot of these coming.
The push and pull between this beautifully stylized, mysterious world against the more in-your-face creature design and gore elements leads to a movie that may be a struggle for many. It’s caught somewhere between the horror movie many want it to be and the mystery the film itself yearns to be. There’s a very real chance that seasoned horror viewers looking for a scare won’t find one here. Unfortunately, those who gel with the more subtle scary elements may enjoy the more in-your-face horror.
However, the performances are strong across the board. Liam Cunningham, best known to audiences for his work as Davos in Game of Thrones, steers the Demeter with the calm steadying presence we know so well. At the same time, David Dastmalchian reminds us why he’s one of the greatest actors currently working. The man is a chameleon.
I would be shirking my responsibilities if I didn’t call out Aisling Franciosi. While the script doesn’t give her a heck of a lot to do, the actress manages to steal a number of scenes out from under her co-stars. In fact, some of the film’s most comedically entertaining moments rest squarely on her shoulders. She’s a joy to watch, and I am excited to jump into more of her work.
These strong performances allow The Last Voyage of the Demeter to triumph over an inherently challenging narrative structure. Without sharing potential spoilers, audiences learn how the movie ends five minutes into act one. This (in theory!) leaves viewers with no dramatic tension to hang onto. On the contrary, though, these sensitive and likable portrayals from the entire cast make it easy to remain engaged through the easy two-hour run time.
All in all, The Last Voyage of the Demeter paints an interesting picture. Unfortunately, it struggles to blend its elements together and, as such, can’t stick the landing. While there certainly are many intriguing pieces here, the narrative waffling between mystery and horror elements ultimately tempers the impact of the final product.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter opens in theaters around the county on August 11, 2023.
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