Horror on the high seas: ‘The Last Voyage of the Demeter’ review

A fresh take on the Dracula legend aims to terrify audiences

Watching The Last Voyage of the Demeter might feel like being on a roller-coaster for the first time. First comes the nervous feeling in your stomach as you recount everything anyone has told you about the ride. The car climbs up the initial incline, slow and steady, the anticipation building with each clack, creak and moan emanating from the tracks. You inhale sharply when you reach the first peak; it’s a long way down. As the ride pauses for effect, you grip the bar in front of you tight. Then comes the drop. In a flash, you’re flung around corners and through loops, all while a mix of emotions floods the long-dormant, primitive parts of your brain. Fear, exhilaration, awe and occasionally, disappointment. The entire time, you endure a fusion of epic highs with stomach-churning lows, but in the end, you know one thing for certain: the ride was an experience. 

Having premiered in theatres this August, The Last Voyage of the Demeter is a film that’s certainly worthy of being called an “experience.” Based on Chapter 7 of the Bram Stoker immortal classic, Dracula, the plot of The Demeter tells the tale of Mr. Clemens (Corey Hawkins of Kong: Skull Island and BlacKkKlansman), a 19th-century physician who joins the crew of the cargo ship Demeter on an expedition from Romania to London, England. One evening, while attending to his duties aboard the vessel, Clemens stumbles upon Anna (Aisling Franciosi of Game of Thrones, The Nightingale), a young woman who has been mysteriously hidden in the cargo hold. Unbeknownst to those on board the ship, including Captain Eliot (Liam Cunningham of Game of Thrones) and first-mate Wojchek (David Dastmalchian of Suicide Squad, Ant-Man), she is not the only stowaway. A monster greater than any evil known to humankind haunts the hulls of the doomed vessel, the creature known as Dracula (Javier Botet of The Mummy, The Conjuring 2).

Since its release, much has been said about the film, with reviews largely mixed by critics and audiences. Benjamin Lee of The Guardian, for example, described the flick as “[…] a gory 2-hour film […] that works better in theory than in practice.” In contrast, Peter Sobczynski of rogerebert.com shared a more positive review, writing that The Demeter is “[…] an often striking take on the tale that makes up for what it lacks in surprise with a lot of style and some undeniably effective scare moments […]” and calling it “[…] smart, well-made, and sometimes downright creepy.” Perhaps the best endorsements that The Demeter could receive may have come from two horror masters, Stephen King and Guillermo del Toro.

King, whose novels It, Carrie, and The Shinning have been made into highly successful movies, called The Demeter a “[…] throat-ripping good time” that reminded him of “the best of the Hammer movies from the Sixties and Seventies,” while del Torro (Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water) heaped high praise as well, calling it “[…] gorgeous, lavish, and savage” (H/T The Independent).

Although The Demeter starts very slowly, the pace is justifiable, setting a mood throughout the movie. Like all good horror flicks, the slow pace adds to feelings of trepidation and dread. Audiences are forced to wonder when the first jump-scare will occur, with a creepy, macabre musical score (written by American composer and musician Bear McCreary) foreshadowing the action. On the visual side, Director André Øvredal created a film that is a truly striking, haunting work of art. His use of tight camera angles helps inspire slight feelings of claustrophobia, especially during the nighttime moments at sea, creating tension until the moment someone screams. Although The Demeter doesn’t necessarily deliver on the fruition of the promised terror, the quality and quantity of gore and violence more than makeup for its absence.

Final verdict: The Last Voyage of the Demeter isn’t a perfect movie. Still, it can be an amazing, fun experience if you allow it to be.Just in time for the Halloween season, The Last Voyage of the Demeter is available now for digital purchase or rental on Amazon Prime Video, the Cineplex Store, and other major video-on-demand services.

Final Rating: 7/10 creepy vampire bats