The Last Voyage of the Demeter 2023 offers us a new angle to Dracula but misses the essence of Bram Stoker’s original masterpiece, writes TERRY SHERWOOD
TITLE: The Last Voyage Of The Demeter, aka Dracula: Voyage of the Demeter
DIRECTOR: André Øvredal
CAST: Corey Hawkins, Aisling Franciosi, Liam Cunningham, David Dastmalchian
Review of The Last Voyage of the Demeter 2023
Dracula and the story itself have become Shakespearean in nature, going through various interpretations and portrayals we all know so very well, and we all have our favourites.
One of my intense dislikes is what Francis Ford Coppala did a few years back, about which I will not yet rant.
This brings me to the recent The Last Voyage of the Demeter 2023, which for me falls into the same category of missed opportunity.
Not as ridiculous as the Francis Ford Coppola moment when Oldman opens the door and you see, well, you know what we all saw.
“Only Her Shell, Possessed and Corrupted by the Evil of Dracula”
The Last Voyage of the Demeter 2023 is based on the idea, and I stress the idea, of a moment or two from the Bram Stoker novel.
The voyage we all know from Transylvania to England resulted in a shipwreck in Whitby harbour.
The film’s director André Øvredal has a lovely pedigree of suspense and terror from his work in the brilliantly understated The Autopsy of Jane Doe 2016 and The Troll Hunter 2010.
He knows how to work in a small set like a ship, use camera flow, and work with actors on the little things.
The writers Bragi F. Schut and Zak Olkewicz have fashioned a screenplay filled with moments and characters from Bram Stoker’s few lines.
The production values are superb in this film, from the opening shipwreck on the rocks, the terrified policeman who refuses to go back into the ship after what he saw, to the flashback where the gypsies are carrying Dracula’s boxes to port.
These poor souls are grimy and scared, yet they thrust the gold coins into First Mate Wojciech’s (David Dastmalchian) hands and run off before the sun sets.
These boxes don’t have the direct nameplate of Dracula as in the Hammer films, but a dragon references Vlad Tepes’ Order of the Dragon affiliation.
“I Answer Your Zeal with My Fortune”
Captain Elliot (Liam Cunningham) gives the role its proper dignity and authority.
The actor even looks like Michael Ripper in beard and attire.
He speaks in mannered, clear tones and directs his crew with thought and skill. He is a family man with his sister’s son Toby (Woody Norman).
Toby is a precocious lad who oversees the ship’s livestock and dog.
The captain is looking for a stronger crew for the voyage to England when he settles on Mr Clemens (Cory Hawkins), who is wearing the “clothes of an educated man” and wants to make passage to England.
He also says he is good with a needle and is a real ship doctor.
When refused passage because he does not have strong hands, Clemens makes his way to the dock anyway.
When one of the crew backs out because he sees the dragon on the boxes being raised and endears himself as a man of action by saving Toby from a near accident, Clemens gets his wish to join.
The voyage gets underway, and we get glimpses of seaboard life, all with wonderful detail.
The crew of the Demeter are all unique and have moments of screen time like the God-fearing cook Joseph (Jon Jon Briones) and the lustful Abrams, who helps to reveal in a good-natured way that young Toby knows what a brothel is.
Then the killing starts, and the crew disappear or are found ripped up, as all the livestock are discovered by the crew. It is no secret who is doing the killings as the voyage progresses and things get worse.
“I Will Follow You into the Dark”
Perhaps the film’s most brilliant character addition is a doomed female stowaway Anna (Aisling Franciosi), who is found in the hold almost empty of blood.
In an homage, I think, to the new medical practice of transfusion as in the Stoker novel and in Dracula 1958, Anna is revived after the procedure, only to scream that ‘He’ is onboard and they all must get away.
Wonderful setup, as for many people, the payoff is the appearance of the monster, in this case, of course, Dracula.
You see glimpses of Dracula in shadow, recalling more Max Schreck with talons and flesh. This is what the producers and director thought would work, and for me, it is the gravest mistake.
The wonderful evil destroyer of men through women becomes just another killing machine.
Such an opportunity to show red eyes, fog with rats, and Dracula in human forms walking upon the water as some Christ-like being in direct blasphemy, all lost.
Instead, you have a creature hunt that does not end well aboard a ship.
Granted, there are some moments, such as when the vampirised crewman Olgaren meets the fiery fate of the rising sun while strapped to the mast in front of the crew.
A little Dracula Has Risen from the Grave 1968 moment when blood specks start dropping from on high on Toby’s tunic, only to reveal one of Dracula’s killings, alas not in a ship bell.
Aisling Franciosi as Anna steals the show in her brief camera time.
Anna is doomed and brought along for him to “feed.” Her fragility, resignation, and even a certain will to live all come out as she accepts her fate.
Anna is alongside Marita Hunt as Baroness Meister, a pathetic monster with a fate thrust upon her from Brides of Dracula 1960.
Truly, Franciosi supplies one of the best moments of the film along with the character work of David Dastmalchian as the gruff First Mate, trying to come to terms with the situation.
Coming in close is also the work of Woody Norman as Toby, refreshingly not childlike at times, with deep responsibility and trust making him intriguing.
“We Learn from Failure, Not Success”
The Last Voyage of the Demeter 2023 works in areas and not so well in perhaps the main part of the monster.
There is a gore factor here, not overpowering the murders of many of the crew, complete with slurping sounds.
The film has pace, although it could be cut by 15 minutes to make it even more brisk.
The build up time and detail may lose many viewers today accustomed to jump scares, the dead rising, and zombies that munch.
It is not an old-fashioned horror film, as some have said, just flawed moments that, for whatever reason, even contain some small woke sentiment. The key, though, as always, is Dracula and his presence off-screen as well, and that is the biggest let down.
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