Dracula kills people on a boat
Sometimes it’s nice when a movie is just the thing that it is. The Last Voyage of the Demeter is a movie in which Dracula kills people on a boat. No more, no less.
You might be wondering: Why is Dracula on a boat? It’s a good question, and there is a good answer. In Chapter 7 of the original novel by Bram Stoker, Dracula kills people on a boat. In this movie, based on that chapter, Dracula kills people on a boat.
The film, directed by the Norwegian André Øvredal, is a gloomy, underlit thriller, just right for boat killing. The captain of the ship is played by Liam Cunningham, best known as Davos from Game of Thrones. He gives my favorite performance of the film as the grizzled and dignified and slowly unraveling leader of the boat. There’s also the protagonist, a supremely rational doctor named Clemens (Corey Hawkins) who must reckon with the supernatural fact that Dracula is on a boat. Aisling Franciosi plays a stowaway; David Dastmalchian plays a grumpy quartermaster; Jon Jon Briones plays the religious cook. All are perfectly fine as people who get killed on a boat by Dracula.
Dracula himself (the one who kills the people on the boat) is unrecognizable from the typical Bela Lugosi image of the vampire as a thick-accented nobleman. Here, he is a demonic, monstrous creature, his bat-like visage clearly inspired by Nosferatu. He serves a narrative purpose quite like the xenomorph from Alien, initially invisible and sowing paranoia, picking off crew members one at a time. But instead of killing people on a spaceship, Dracula kills people on a boat.
The horror scenes are pretty repetitive: First, there is a person on a boat, typically surrounded by fog and looking around nervously. Second, Dracula kills the person. Third, the rest of the crew wonders “who or what is this thing killing people on a boat?” The one set piece with any real bite is the one in which the friendly child (Woody Norman) is the person killed on a boat by Dracula: it’s the only death scene with any creativity to its suspense, pulling in various characters and using a little bit of misdirection. And his actual demise the only one with a genuine sense of anguish.
The movie struggles with shallow supporting characters. It’s pretty obvious from the start which ones will be immediately killed by Dracula on a boat, as opposed to the ones will only be killed by Dracula on a boat in the climax: the former have zero distinct character traits, the latter have one or two. It’s hard to get too invested in these specific people getting killed by Dracula on a boat, which is a problem when the entire point of your movie is people getting killed by Dracula on a boat.
The visuals are, overall, decent moody fun. I admired the sets, which use giant water tanks in order to make the audience feel like it, too, is on a boat on which Dracula is killing people. Øvredal errs on the side of too much fog and too little lighting, but this gives the film the identity of a classical piece of atmospheric horror. I wish he and his team had gone further: If the crew was going to aim for a vintage look, they could have used less rapid-fire cutting and orange-blue color grading (hell, make it black-and-white). The CGI Dracula, who kills people on a boat, sticks out relative to the practical effects that dominate the rest of the film. Then again, he mostly lingers in the shadows except for a few key shots. The moments in which he kills people on a boat, we mostly see him as a dark blur rather than something with a shape.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter is not a particularly memorable piece of filmmaking; it flits between solid and deeply bland multiple times. Overall, it’s safe to skip unless you are particularly excited about watching a movie in which Dracula kills people on a boat.