The Last Voyage of the Demeter is a movie you probably haven’t seen much buzz about unless it’s to mock its somewhat ill-fitting title. Indeed, The name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, nor does it give a layman any idea what it’s about. To be clear, the movie centers on a trek across the ocean where a team of seamen has been entrusted to transport precious cargo, including a bevy of crates carrying various corpses. Unbeknownst to the crew, one of the would-be coffins contains the body of Dracula. But this Count isn’t known for arithmetic, but his desperate need for sustenance – which manifests in the creature carefully picking his spots to sink his teeth into new victims. The premise is based on a critical chapter of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Now, why you wouldn’t want to put the iconic vampire front and center in the advertising is anyone’s guess. There are markets where the famous monster finds his name on the marquee, and a title as simple as Captain’s Log: Dracula would have sufficed – a modern audience doesn’t know what the Demeter is.

Nonetheless, the movie itself is a more enthralling thriller than its marketing would suggest. The Demeter is a solid, enticing mix of visual flare mixed with a devoted cast that takes the material deathly seriously. Where the film falters is in trying to extract as much meaningful story as possible from what is essentially just a fraction of the novel it’s based on. This requires director André Øvredal to try his best to flesh out the human characters, adding a modern spin to the character relationships. Enter Clemens (Corey Hawkins), a Black doctor who boards the vessel and has to contend with the unfair assumptions of his character and intellect. Early on, the ship’s captain remarks that Clemens is dressed “like an educated man.”


The movie paints Clemens as an underdog, as well as the audience surrogate, positioned to be humanity’s hope towards fighting an otherworldly evil. Yet, there’s not much more to the story than that, resulting in a few sections of the movie that are a bit slow and lacking tension. However, André Øvredal’s direction and cool color palette keep the film visually attractive throughout; the movie looks similar in aesthetic to another Gothic vampire flick, Underworld (2003).

The story the film depicts is but a sliver of the novel before many of the events that the character is known for. As a result, this is a very different film than what Dracula aficionados may be used to. There’s no debonair mystique from a calculated man pantomiming sophistication, no great search for love, no blending into high society. This version of the character, apropos of the book chapter, is a demon only motivated by the most basic and bloodthirsty instincts. The creature itself takes heavy inspiration from Nosferatu (1922) in appearance but is made to look even more grotesque. This looks less like a vampire and more like a zombie, with decayed flesh and horrific teeth. Here, Dracula is a mute who’s had his humanity completely drained from him, an ironic disposition given his need for human plasma.

Unfortunately, the frightening creature design isn’t always showcased for maximum impact. The costuming and special effects are impressive, but Dracula’s appearances are so straightforward as opposed to catching the audience off guard with visual trickery. This is a film set primarily at night, on a boat; that should allow plenty of instances where the movie takes advantage of shadows and the ship’s architecture to introduce the monster in creative ways, but Øvredal only utilizes this on occasion. On the positive side, the visual effects have realistic weight and color, including an incredible shot where a character is consumed by fire amidst the beauty of the ocean.

To me, The Demeter is a mixed bag of execution. The pacing and editing sometimes rob the plot of its urgency, such as when the protagonists find a crucial piece of information, but the script has to make excuses for why they don’t act on it ASAP. It’s a movie that is rather simplistic in its scares, as well as the targets utilized for audience sympathy. But it’s still a fun, enjoyable experience. No one will be writing essays about the complexities of the ship’s crew. Still, I enjoyed Liam Cunningham as the ship’s captain and Aisling Franciosi as a desperate woman who knows all too well what Dracula is capable of. As a horror movie and as an entry in the Dracula mythology, it’s not reinventing the wheel. Instead, it’s a solid diversion built on strong production values and a unique premise. It is if nothing else, a fresh spin on the Count’s presentation, reminding us that the emotion Dracula should inspire is not empathy but the fear that comes with crossing his path on a cold dark night.