‘The Last Voyage of the Demeter’ Review: Dracula’s Back in Bland Horror Tale

Corey Hawkins tries hard to keep this rusty sea-based film afloat

"The Last Voyage of the Demeter"
"The Last Voyage of the Demeter" (CREDIT: Universal Pictures)

Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” hit shelves in 1897, and in that time there have been so many iterations of the famous vampire that to watch them all would take a lifetime. And yet filmmakers continuously try to find new ways in to a story so well-worn it’s leather. Such is the case with André Øvredal’s “The Last Voyage of the Demeter,” which touts itself as Dracula’s origin story (which it really isn’t if you read the beginning and middle of Stoker’s book).

Surrounding just 10 pages of Stoker’s novel, “The Last Voyage of the Demeter,” follows the crew of the titular boat who, upon arriving in Dracula’s homeland are immediately warned off by an Eastern European harbinger of doom that hints at an old-school horror movie as opposed to a movie that understands we already know Dracula like the back of our hand.

The crew, led by Captain Eliot (Liam Cunningham) and his second in command, Wojchek (David Dastmalchian) are hoping to make it to England quickly to secure a large bonus. Along the way they pick up a doctor, Clemens (Corey Hawkins), as well as a stowaway (Aisling Franciosi) who claims that a horrific creature is on the ship with them. From there, people on the boat start disappearing, making everyone question what is happening.

“The Last Voyage of the Demeter” is a prime example of why not everything needs to be shown. The Demeter section in Stoker’s novel is tense and hints at the terror that’s to come in the rest of the story, there’s no way a movie could ever cross what the audience’s imagination is already filling in. In this case, the film’s near two-hour runtime takes way too long to actually get going, making a point of introducing every character and their dynamics with each other at the expense of telling a horror tale.

Corey Hawkins’ Clemens in our de facto hero, a man desperate to use his medical skills but finds continuous discrimination at every turn. This is becoming a tiresome trope in films attempting to touch on the issues of the era in which they’re set. The problem here is that Clemens is treated poorly but only so much to not completely turn the audience off from the other characters completely. So it talks about racism without the characters ever being racist. Hawkins, to his credit, brings a lot of fire to his performance but there’s no depth to him besides being a Black doctor in a racist time. Corey Hawkins deserves better.

Really, all the actors here deserve better and have done better. Dastmalchian has become the face of 2023 with all the horror movies he’s done. If you’ve already seen “Boston Strangler” or “Boogeyman,” he gives far superior performances. As Wojchek he just affects a funny accent and looks gruff. There is a bit of a backstory to him in that the Demeter will go to him as Captain Eliot’s deemed this his one…last….job. (Characters bring up this being the last of something so often as to rob it of meaning completely.)

Once Drac makes his inevitable appearance it’s not particularly exciting, drawing more on the Nosferatu/living bat concept of the character. This is even stranger to see considering Universal just released a Dracula film back in April of this year with Nicolas Cage in the role. Sure, we shouldn’t have expected Cage but it’d be more memorable than a fully CGI character who is often darkly lit. That being said, the bloodletting does give the staid drama a necessary shot in the arm and, if anything, this movie gets props for going so far as to say no one is save, even small children!

But, overall, there’s just nothing about this interpretation of the character that makes him stand out as Count…Dracula versus just another standard vampire, a fact that only becomes more troubling since it’s doubtful most people will equate the Demeter with Stoker’s novel at all. Universal has tried to keep their monsters in the public eye, and god bless them for doing so. But “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” doesn’t do anything nuanced or interesting. Just watch “Renfield.”

“The Last Voyage of the Demeter” hits theaters August 11.