August 10, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by André Øvredal
Culture Representation: Taking place in 1897, mostly on a ship sailing from the Carpathian mountain range in continental Europe to London, the horror film “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” (based on a chapter in Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” novel) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one black person and one Asian person) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: The people on a ship that’s carrying livestock for a sales transaction find out too late that a vampire named Dracula is on the ship.
Culture Audience: “The Last Voyage of Demeter” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stories about Dracula or other vampires, but this violent flick drags on with underdeveloped characters and lot of boring repetition.
Considering the large number of vampire movies that exist, “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” is as creatively comatose as a vampire victim drained of blood. It takes entirely too long to get to any real action in this story, which is a dull mess of clichés. The movie has a talented cast, but they can’t save this disappointing movie that’s the equivalent of a sinking ship.
Directed by André Øvredal and written by Bragi F. Schut and Zak Olkewicz, “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” is based on the chapter “Captain’s Log” in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula.” Making an entire movie based on only a book chapter can either limit the movie when mishandled or open up a lot of innovative possibilities from filmmakers with enough imagination. Unfortunately, “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” is hampered by a limp plot that’s essentially just a checklist of people on a ship getting attacked by the evil vampire Dracula on the ship. This vampire (played by Javier Botet) looks more like the alien-like Nosferatu as it was orginally conceived, rather than the elegant Count Dracula.
The movie begins in Whitby, England, on August 7, 1897. On a stormy night, two coast guard men in raincoats find a deserted schooner, with a dead man tied to its wheel. The man has a crucifix in his hand. In his pocket is a bottle, with a rolled-up piece of paper inside. It’s a journal entry log that warns of danger. Suddenly, an unseen force attacks the two coast guard men.
The movie then does a flashback to July 1897. A cargo ship called The Demeter is about to set sail from the Carpathian mountain range (which spans from Bulgaria to the north and Romania to the south), with the final destination to London. The cargo consists of several livestock animals, such as goats, pigs and chickens. Viewers soon find out that the schooner with the dead man originally came from The Demeter.
Right before The Demeter is about to set sail, several men who were hired to be crew members on the ship end up quitting when they hear that the ship will be leaving after the sun sets. The leader of this superstitious group says that the group will only leave if the ship sails before sunset. The ship’s first mate Wojchek (played by David Dastmalchian), a Polish immigrant who grew up as an orphan, tries to convince the men to change their minds, but they stand firm and then leave the harbor.
The Demeter then leaves with a very understaffed crew, which will soon find out how dangerous this voyage will be. The evil vampire Dracula starts attacking people on the ship, one by one. Everything that you think will happen in this movie does happen, because it’s a rote rehash of other vampire flicks, except it takes place on a ship in 1897. And if there’s a lone survivor in the story, you can easily predict who it will be.
In addition to first mate Wojcheck, the other people on this fatal voyage of The Demeter are intelligent British physician Clemons (played by Corey Hawkins), level-headed Captain Eliot (played by Liam Cunningham), Captain Eliot’s curious 8-year-old grandson Toby (played by Woody Norman) and a mysterious stowaway named Anna (played by Aisling Franciosi), who is found in a comatose state with bloody welts and bites all over her body. Clemons has to give her blood transfusions to keep her alive.
Other people on the ship are four crew members: a dependable Romanian named Olgaren (played by Stefan Kapicic); reliable second mate Larsen (played by Martin Furulund); loudmouth Petrofsky (played by Nikolai Nikolaeff); and youngest crew member Abrams (played by Chris Walley), who has a special bond with Larsen. All four of these crew members don’t say much that’s worth remembering after watching the movie. During a meal around a dining table the men talk about going to a brothel, and they have a laugh when Toby tells them that a brothel is where women take off their knickers.
Also on the Demeter is the ship’s ultra-religious cook Joseph (played by Jon Jon Briones), who is originally from the Philippines. Joseph gets very offended when he hears people curse, because he thinks cursing is a serious sin. Someone should’ve told Joseph that he picked the wrong job, working with a bunch of sailors. He is also highly superstitious.
Not much happens for the first 20 minutes of the movie. Viewers find out that Toby is in charge of looking after the animals. This voyage is going to be Captain Eliot’s last voyage before he retires. Soon after The Demeter sets sail, Captain Eliot tells Vojchek that he wants Vojchek to be his successor. Vojchek, who sees Captain Eliot almost like a father figure, is flattered by this decision.
Captain Eliot keeps the ship’s log. His written entries are occasionally read aloud as voiceovers in the movie. These entries start off as very routine, but then the entries become more alarming as more disturbing things happen on the ship. It’s all so formulaic.
It’s explained early on in the movie that Clemons, who is a graduate of the University of Cambridge, is on the ship because he had been hired for a physician job in Eastern Europe. But once the employers saw Clemons in person (he’s black), they withdrew the job offer. Clemons decided to go back to England and needed a ride, which is how he ended up on this ship of strangers. Other than this backstory, Clemons mostly has a blank slate of a personality.
The issue of racism is briefly mentioned, in relation to Clemons getting a job taken away from him because of his race and a few other racist incidents that he’s experienced outside of this ship. No one on the ship treats Clemons with overt racism. However, he sometimes has to remind some of the crew members of his education to convince them that he’s capable of making certain medical decisions.
There could have been so much more done with the Clemons character, in terms of his character and his life experiences, but “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” filmmakers gave Clemons a cardboard cutout type of character: He’s there, and he’s noticeable, but he doesn’t have much depth. By the end of the movie, viewers will literally not know much about Clemons except that he’s a compassionate doctor who experiences racism.
Likewise, the Anna character and her life story also remains largely unknown. When Anna emerges from her coma and warns that Dracula is on the ship, the crew barely asks her any questions about who she is and what she knows about Dracula. Part of this lack of curiosity is because, at first, most of the crew members think that Anna is hallucinating from her medical injuries. “The Last Voyage of Demeter” has a lot of gore, but it avoids the messy and realistic issue of what it means to be a physically vulnerable woman who’s the only female on board a ship with some coarse sailors.
One of the more idiotic scenes in the movie is when Joseph finds out that something on board is killing the crew, he doesn’t leave during the day when he as a chance—in other words, when things on the water will be much easier to see. Instead, Joseph waits to leave by himself on a rowboat on a very foggy night. Although nothing is wrong with the cast members’ acting in “The Last Voyage of Demeter, ” none of it is special either, because the screenwriting makes all the characters fairly hollow.
Visually, “The Last Voyage of Demeter” is just a dump of mediocrity. This movie is bloody, but it’s not very scary. The best Dracula movies show the glimmers of humanity in Dracula. “The Voyage of the Demeter” just makes Dracula a drab monster who’s on the loose, with no concern in telling anything interesting about Dracula. For a movie about a vampire icon, “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” is bloodless and toothless when it comes to telling a good story.
Universal Pictures/DreamWorks Pictures will release “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” in U.S. cinemas on August 11, 2023.