“THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER”
Starring Corey Hawkins, Aisling Franciosi, Liam Cunningham, David Dastmalchian, Javier Botet, Woody Norman
Written by Bragi Schut, Jr. and Zak Olkewicz
Story by Bragi Schut, Jr.
Based on “The Captain’s Log,” a chapter from the novel “Dracula” by Bram Stoker
Directed by Andre Ovredal
Produced by Bradley J. Fischer, Mike Medavoy and Arnold W. Messner
Cinematography by Tom Stern
Edited by Patrick Larsgaard
Music by Bear McCreary

By Matt Neufeld
August 10, 2023

One would understandably be cautious, hesitant and a bit suspicious when any movie comes out featuring vampires in general or Count Dracula specifically, considering there have been literally hundreds upon hundreds of movies featuring these creatures of the night since literally the beginning of film, with most of them being pretty awful, most of them not offering anything new or inventive, and most of them just being repetitive, unimaginative, tired and cliched.

Thus, it’s always a genuine cause for celebration when any new vampire/Dracula movie is released and it’s actually a good movie. There’s even more reason to raise a goblet of fresh blood in celebration when that movie is actually not even just good, but, dare we say it, even excellent.

So it’s celebration time, as “The Last Voyage of the Demeter,” a new film about Dracula from the talented director Andre Ovredal and screenwriters Bragi Schut, Jr., and Zak Olkewicz, is impressively above-average–a classy, stylish, atmospheric, insightful, smart, well-written, well-acted, well-directed and, notably, genuinely tense, suspenseful, terrifying—-and scary—-horror film. The direction is tight, controlled, creative, well-edited and well-constructed; the acting by the experienced cast is exceptional, moving and emotional; the writing is so far above most vampire, Dracula and horror films, it’s just a joy to see and hear characters in a horror movie actually talking, communicating and discussing things in an intelligent manner as actually intelligent, educated people; the cinematography is beautifully crafted to generate the appropriate levels of dread, fear, terror and horror; and the production design is appropriately period-authentic, detailed, historically accurate and, in a classy horror film type of way, rich, tasteful, eloquent and beautiful to look at and enjoy.

“The Last Voyage of the Demeter” is the best horror film of this year, so far, and, quite simply, but notably, the film just happens to be one of the best horror films released during the last few years. That’s how good the film truly is. And, as it must be noted these days, “Demeter” is a big-screen film that deserves to be seen and enjoyed right up there on the big movie theater screen.

Besides excelling at all filmic levels, including, additionally, some requisite excellent and creepy make-up, prosthetics and special effects, “Demeter” also registers as an above-average film because of its core, foundational source material: A terrifying, chilling chapter from nothing less than vampiredom’s and Draculadom’s continued main, original inspiration, Irish author Bram Stoker’s classic 1897 novel “Dracula.” “Demeter” is based on a chapter from the book called “The Captain’s Log,” in which the captain of a ship known as the Demeter documents the strange, eerie and frightening events that befall the ship and it’s crew as they sail to their destination, England. It’s not giving anything away to note that the only things that eventually make it to England’s shores are the boat, a lot of blood and that Captain’s log, essentially. The ship mysteriously, strangely–and chillingly–arrives at shore with no living crew or livestock.

Schut, Olkewicz and Ovredal made a wise decision by going all the way back to Stoker’s excellent, original source material for their basic story, plot and character inspiration and by utilizing that classic, main-source-material’s still-impressive richness, detail and eloquence. It’s not necessarily new to generate genuine horror and fear by creating tension and dread among people confined to a small space that they can’t escape from and are trapped in, but, let’s face it, there’s something quite horrific about being trapped aboard a boat literally in the middle of a huge sea while something–something hidden, unknown and largely unseen
–roams and creeps around that boat systematically attacking, biting, driving insane and killing all aboard. That’s terrifying, and the movie is subsequently terrifying because of this dreadful, scary situation.

Sure, everyone is going to immediately think about Ridley Scott’s classic “Alien,” in which the crew of a spaceship is, well, trapped aboard the ship in the middle of outer space while, well, something unseen creeps around the ship attacking and killing everyone aboard. However, despite the obvious similarities between “Demeter” and “Alien”–and several hundred other movies based on similar trapped-with-the-creature situations–filmgoers can remain assured that “Demeter” is not a blatant rip-off of all those other movies, and “Demeter” does indeed register as a strong, smart and inventive movie that stands on its own sea legs.

The cast of “Demeter” is exceptional. Corey Hawkins delivers a steady, understated, intelligent–and distinguished–performance as Clemens, a highly-educated, well-spoken and dedicated doctor and astronomer who is hired as a shipmate on the demeter. He is a constant, steady hand and steady mind, and Clemens is a likeable, sympathetic protagonist who uses his smarts to fight the creature, attempt to defend his other shipmates and desperately try and figure out just what on earth or hell is aboard the ship. He is aided by a stowaway with her own interesting and scary backstory, Anna, who is a woman as strikingly beautiful as she is smart, strong, resourceful and insightful. Clemens and Anna make a great, heroic team, and their impressive battle against the on-board creature is heroic. The beautiful, talented actress Aisling Franciosi plays Anna and, much like Hayley Atwell in the most recent “Mission: Impossible” movie, she promptly steals the movie through her powerful acting and powerful, attractive, sultry presence. Audiences will root for Clemens and Anna, and, for once, as noted, we have truly heroic horror movie lead characters who actually have something intelligent and important to say. With most horror films, most characters don’t have much to say that’s intelligent or important.

The reliable, sturdy and equally heroic and smart captain of the Demeter, Captain Elliot, is ably, strongly played by Liam Cunningham, who will remind viewers of the equally stalwart captain in James Cameron’s “Titanic.” Cunningham, as he noted in an interview with the Den of Geek entertainment website, wanted to portray the captain as strong, hard-working, dedicated and educated, and that’s exactly the captain we get. The captain is also a tragic character, and Cunningham displays some layed, textured acting range as the captain’s fateful journey becomes more and more tragic. Cunningham, too, delivers a powerful performance.

The rest of the lead cast in this truly ensemble film are all equally impressive. Javier Botet, who is, along with Andy Serkis and Doug Jones, one of our leading modern-day creature and monster actors, is impressively and terrifyingly monstrous and scary as Dracula. His physicality, body movements, facial expressions and general acting ability enable Botet to just scare the hell out of viewers as Dracula with only a whispered handful of lines and a portrayal of a Dracula that is more of a hellish, ugly monster-demon than the stylish, debonair, black-caped Count that too often seems to have delicately stepped out of a GQ or Esquire fashion shoot. This Dracula is winged, fanged, sharp-toothed, scaly, greenish, drooling, biting and ruthlessly bloodthirsty–and genuinely horrorshow, chiller-thriller scary. This Dracula seems to have stepped out of a torture chamber or, more appropriately, out of a dirty, smelly, moldy, maggot-infested mound of Transylvanian dirt.

Having Dracula appear as a truly hellish demon, as a true monster, rather than that other style of Count Dracula, is yet another smart and inventive movie move by the director and writers. This is a Dracula that will remind viewers of Nosferatu rather than some rich, blue-blood, aristocratic, high-society nobleman.

Rounding out this excellent cast are David Dastmalchian as Wojchek, Capt. Elliot’s equally-stalwart first mate, and Woody Norman as Capt. Elliot’s spunky and smart grandson, Toby. Both of these actors shine in their roles, also.

“The Last Voyage of the Demeter” will remind filmgoers of some of the vampire genre’s better, more inventive and atmospheric films, such as “Near Dark,” “Let The Right One In,” “Let Me In,” “Fright Night,” “Underworld,” “The Hunger,” and, still, one of the absolute best vampire films ever made, director John Badham’s 1979 “Dracula,” with Frank Langella as Count Dracula, Kate Nelligan as Lucy Steward, Jan Francis as Mina Van Helsing, Donald Pleasence as Dr. Jack Seward and the great Laurence Olivier as Mina’s father, Professor Van Helsing.

Badham’s classic 1979 “Dracula” was generally and mainly based on Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula,” too. It’s pretty impressive that a novel published in 1897, or 126 years ago, is still inspiring great new vampire movies.

Like many of the vampires in all of these scary Gothic supernatural and horror stories passed down through the ages, it seems that vampire movies are indeed eternal. Even the ages-old curses of box office failure and mediocre inventiveness can’t seem to stop the continued onslaught of vampire movies—-and, yes, concurrent vampire books, plays, short stories, comic books, video games, television shows and who knows what else that lurks in the shadows and roams the night.

So, the next time you’re out walking on the beach, and some strange old ship washes up on shore devoid of passengers, crew or cargo, and you just happen to stumble upon the lonely, decrepit, rotting ruins in the dark night, with a foreboding bad black moon on the rise and only the mournful sounds of angry waves lashing against the rugged shoreline there to keep you company, remember that old previous foreboding captain’s log of times gone by—and run. Run to your nearest movie theater, and experience all of these chills and thrills and scares where they’re meant to be enjoyed–in a darkened theater, surrounded by fellow thrill-seeking mere mortals and, well, maybe, just maybe, joined by some movie-loving, thrill-seeking vampires, too. Have fun–but watch your back. And your neck.

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Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld is a longtime journalist, actor and film critic in the Washington and Baltimore areas. He has participated in many local film events and projects in the region, and he has appeared as an actor, supporting actor and extra in more than 45 films projects, at all levels, during the past 20 years.