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The Last Voyage of the Demeter (2023) - Movie Review

The Last Voyage of the Demeter movie poster

Last year I heard about a movie that was (at the time) still in development, but on paper had the potential to be one of the best horror films we’ve seen in some time. Being somewhat jaded these days though thanks to being disappointed time and time again by new movies, I figured I’d wait until the trailer dropped before getting too excited.

Fast forward a month or so and to my dismay it was as I feared. The trailer painted a picture of a squandered opportunity to tell a brilliant and exciting story - and one with the same fateful theme as Rogue One (2016). Still, with much lower expectations than originally planned I recently decided to see how they could’ve possibly cocked up what should’ve in theory been a guaranteed hit.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter (2023)

If you haven’t seen it, it’s a supernatural horror starring Corey Hawkins (Kong: Skull Island), Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones), David Dastmalchian (The Suicide Squad), and Aisling Franciosi (The Unforgivable) among others.

The film is an adaptation of “The Captain’s Log”, a chapter from the classic 1897 novel, Dracula by Bram Stoker.

This is what it’s about according to the internet:

“The crew of the merchant ship Demeter sets sail from Carpathia to London to deliver a cargo of 50 unmarked wooden crates. However, they soon discover they're not alone as Dracula's unholy presence turns the trip into a nightmarish fight for survival.”

Dracula was one of the first proper books I read in my early teens. I still remember the excitement I felt reading it. As I mentioned above this movie is based on one chapter from it entitled “The Captain’s Log”, and after watching this film the other night I decided to re-read that chapter to see just how closely the story followed it. As it happens it’s actually pretty close, but as you’d expect there are a few differences and extras to make the story fill its two hour run time.

The chapter is briefly featured in the 1992 Frances Ford Coppola movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula, however the story of the doomed ship and its crew is told in just a short segment with a narration by Anthony Hopkins’ character, Abraham Van Helsing reading passages from the captain’s log.

Film Fact:

Interestingly, a sequel to that movie would’ve seen Hopkins return as Van Helsing, presumably with the same dark tone as Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

According to a 1993 Variety article, the proposed Van Helsing film would have been called The Van Helsing Chronicles. In an interview with Coppola, the iconic director said that the movie would see Van Helsing “go against new malevolent forces” and “combat satanic forces from Hong Kong to San Francisco.”

Unfortunately (or fortunately - depending how you see it) after the success of The Mummy (1999) the idea was scrapped in favour of a more fun and adventure-themed take on the character starring Hugh Jackman. I can’t say I’m a fan of that movie.

But I digress…

Despite my initial feelings I have to admit I enjoyed this film. I wrongly and unfairly judged it based on what I saw in the trailer. The story, being what it is demands that everyone dies (Dracula basically feeds on the crew during his crossing from Varna, Bulgaria to Whitby, England). The trailer kind of implied that that wasn’t going to be the case which made me a little hesitant to watch it. I’m happy to report though that it’s not only a decent watch, but it’s not afraid to break certain rules that don’t often get broken in these types of horror films.

The pace is good, the time period feels authentic, the visual effects and set design are very convincing, and the creature effects of Dracula (who doesn’t appear as a “man” in the film, rather a half Nosferatu-looking, half bat-like creature) are excellent. In fact that's the thing I liked the most about the movie. It also has a few genuinely creepy moments and is R rated, which means it doesn't hold back where other lower age certificated films of this kind do.

My main criticisms though (and there are really only two), are:

1) The casting of the main character could’ve been much better.

Corey Hawkins is “ok” at best, and putting his slightly dodgy English accent aside lacks the charisma to carry the movie in a way that a more accomplished actor could’ve done (apparently in early development both Jude Law and Viggo Mortensen were in talks to lead the film). Fortunately though, Liam Cunningham who plays the ship’s captain, and David Dastmalchian who plays the ship’s quartermaster pick up the slack very well.

2) Not enough suspense.

For a movie that’s basically “Alien on a ship”, it could’ve made so much more of the suspense and paranoia of the situation. There is some of that of course, but no where near as much as there should’ve been. When you look at how effectively Alien (1979) portrays the terror of being in a confined environment with a man-eating creature, or how The Thing (1982) masterfully conveys the paranoia of being in a similar situation but where no one knows who to trust, you’d have thought the filmmakers of this movie would’ve tapped into those things to crank up the suspense. As good as the film is it just feels like it had the potential to be so much more.

That said, it’s a surprisingly decent movie despite sadly being a flop at the box office. It's certainly worth checking out if you’re a fan of the supernatural horror/vampire genre.

With Universal’s 'Dark Universe' (a kind of MCU of classic monsters) in tatters and an idea seemingly long since forgotten, you have to wonder if this movie, had it been made a few years earlier would’ve been part of it. Renfield (2023) was rescued (albeit turned into something very different from what was originally planned), and with another reboot of the classic 1941 film, The Wolf Man coming out next year it seems Universal are either reworking ideas they had for their Dark Universe, or the idea itself isn’t quite as dead as we all thought. Either way I'm more than happy to keep indulging these classic monster-based movies.

If you like Alien and you like vampire movies I recommend checking this film out. It’s basically the Alien of the vampire genre…just on a ship.

And by the way, in case you were curious, Demeter was the Ancient Greek goddess of the harvest (don’t say you don’t learn anything here on The Screen Room Movie Blog).

Have you seen this movie? If so what did you think of it?

Let me know in the comments.

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