Will the mortals of Earth ever tire of vampire stories?
From the first vampire flick in 1922 with Nosferatu, to the many tales and versions of Count Dracula, The Lost Boys, and Twilight, every generation seems to gravitate toward stories about bloodsucking immortals. The newest release into the vampire subgenre, The Last Voyage of the Demeter, comes from a studio familiar to monsters, Universal Pictures, who once again provides a spine-chilling, atmospheric entry featuring who some would consider the true king of monsters, Dracula.
It’s no small feat to create an entire feature film based in entirety on Chapter 7 of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which tells the story of a merchant ship, the Demeter. “The Captain’s Log”, after all, is under 6,000 words in Dracula, only a fraction of what the average feature film’s script amounts to. However, with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’s André Øvredal directing from a well-paced script originally penned by Bragi Schut and screenplay finalized by Zak Olkewicz, the film manages not to lack for narrative. In fact, it’s a bit of a familiar idea with narrative storytelling in recent years, to focus in on one part of the whole (think Rogue One), and successful use of the tactic at that.
If you’re unfamiliar with Øvredal’s work, you will be quickly won over by a reaffirmed consistency in it: he is a master of world-building, and “The Captain’s Log” gave him plenty of foundation on which to build an eerie, tense, claustrophobic voyage to take viewers on. It’s a film that is horrifying in levels — on the surface is the openness of the blue sea, its shifts, and moods a terror of their own, no land to the visible eye to turn to, a sprawling ship with mysterious cargo in more ways than one, and beneath the creaking deck a lurking horror more monstrous than any of the Demeter’s passengers or crew could have imagined.
It both isolates its victims on the open sea and continually reminds them they’re not alone as the doomed voyage continues on. Throughout the film, viewers are never allowed to forget that the Demeter’s end is not a joyous one, the sense of dread of what’s to come palpable and unrelenting. The vision of this visceral voyage constructed by production designer Edward Thomas is impressive and magnificently gothic, with enough detail to bring a personality to the ship, adding it to the list of the film’s characters as it truly takes on a life of its own and asks audiences to wonder what stories the wood has seen.
I’m cautious of Dracula entries that eliminate one side of the coin with the figure who represents something deeply and instinctually unsettling and intriguing — Dracula is a man and a monster. In The Last Voyage of the Demeter, the “man” has been removed from the equation, and there’s one very important reason why I don’t mind the change this time around: practical effects. At its heart the film is a creature feature, and in my opinion, there’s no better way to provide a creature feature than by applying hours of makeup and prosthetics to an actor and letting them do what they do best.
In this case, that results in a primal, out-of-control Dracula played by Javier Botet, whose monstrous actions on the Demeter lend to grotesque kills. Full use of the R-rating was explored for The Last Voyage of the Demeter, with plenty of gore and brutality for those with a higher bloodlust when they go to the movies. Botet isn’t the only aspect of the cast that works — in fact, every member of the cast delivers and serves their character well, each one making you care for the characters in ways you wish you could refrain from knowing where the Demeter’s end is taking them.
If you feel an unending sense of impending doom while watching The Last Voyage of the Demeter, that just means that the film is successful from every aspect … after all, the ship was always doomed from the start. Maybe one day I’ll tire of vampire stories, because not every vampire entry is created equal, and there is certainly a large cinematic disparity between recent entries such as The Last Voyage of the Demeter, Day Shift, and … Morbius.
But for now with releases like The Last Voyage of the Demeter to support the subgenre, that day is not today.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter is playing now in theaters.