Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale. A tale of a faithful trip.
It started on a British port, aboard a tiny ship. The mate was a grizzled, sailor man and the skipper was brave and sure. But, when their ship set sail that day, they didn’t know what was onboard…
Based upon a tale within Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Last Voyage of the Demeter tells the story of Clemens (Corey Hawkins), an educated man seeking passage to England. Clemens eventually secures passage aboard the Demeter, a ship chartered to carry unmarked wooden crates to London. Though, after they set sail upon their ocean voyage, the body count begins to mount as they are hunted by a merciless presence.
Directed by Andre Ovredal, The Last Voyage of the Demeter is a tightly executed thriller that’s perfect for movie theatres in the late summer. Framing itself as a gothic horror, the Demeter’s ‘hunt or be hunted’ leans into the mayhem of other smartly-written creature features like Prey and Monsters. As its fearsome beast lays waste to the unsuspecting crew, the film is fun with its entertainment value and (sometimes, literally) fiery in its execution.
But make no mistake. Despite the tone of my intro, Demeter takes itself very seriously. By keeping this within a single location, Demeter’s claustrophobic atmosphere keeps the intensity high through much of the piece. Bathing the screen with blues and greys, Ovredal drenches the ship in shadows, leaving every corner as a potential threat.
At the same time, rather than get bogged down by the history of Dracula, Demeter treats its Lord of Darkness as a force of nature. Killing without remorse, he feeds upon the weak and helpless, draining them of life. In this way, he becomes both wild animal and murderous psychopath. For Ovredal, the details of Drac aren’t as important as the peril for his crew, allowing them to sit in the madness of the moment. While the audience may be familiar with the tropes of the character, he is entirely new to the crew of the Demeter. To them, he is an unknown terror of mysterious origins.
And the very epitome of evil.
As a result, Demeter creates some interesting conversations amongst its crew members. Facing a bloodthirsty enigma in Dracula, these sailors are left confused and argue about its origins. For some, Dracula represents the wrath of a displeased God, sent to judge them for their sins. But Clemens takes a different approach. As a man of science, he firmly believes that everything can be explained and he fights to understand the evil that presses against them.
However, even though they cling to their beliefs as a way of defense, nothing seems to protect them. Here, Dracula becomes a force that cannot be contained. In this way, Demeter challenges the idea that everything can be understood, acknowledging the randomness of our world. Without giving away any spoilers, Dracula’s presence appears to represent the sense that humanity is adrift in the face of fate, even as we fight against it to understand our world.
Anchoring itself in classic horror, it’s refreshing to see that The Last Voyage of the Demeter never sinks. Though dark and brooding in its tone, Drac’s murderous spree makes for some enjoyable summer fun. Because of that, it’s worth hopping on board.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter is available in theatres on Friday, August 11th, 2023.