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The Last Voyage Of The Demeter review: New spin on Dracula has some bite

Sure it's just Alien on a sailing ship, but this latest take on the Prince of Darkness is worth the trip despite some choppy seas

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Javier Botet in The Last Voyage Of The Demeter
Javier Botet in The Last Voyage Of The Demeter
Photo: Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment

There’s something inherently, gleefully ballsy about a film like The Last Voyage Of The Demeter right from the jump, before you’ve seen the title card hit the screen. Anyone who’s read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, or seen certain Dracula movies, knows we’re talking about a doomed voyage, and at certain points in André Øvredal’s historical horror film, characters even say outright what the title implies. This boat is doomed from the start.

But the satisfaction in good horror films does not always stem from a sense of unpredictability. There’s fun to be had with formulas, particularly when they’re steeped in as much impressive production design and creature effects as Demeter. The fun isn’t in figuring out the ending, but in figuring out how tragedy comes to this particular vessel and its crew. If you pull the narrative off, anyway. Thankfully, thanks to solid direction, a committed cast, and a central monster that keeps drawing your eye, there’s a lot about The Last Voyage Of The Demeter that works. It’s not the best Dracula film you’ll ever see, but it is a chilling new spin on the character, and a voyage horror fans will mostly be glad they took.


The Demeter is a sailing ship ferrying cargo from Eastern Europe to England, and some of that cargo just happens to be a few crates of Transylvanian dirt, one of which contains Dracula (Javier Botet) himself. The crew doesn’t know this, of course, so when things start getting spooky on board, and humans and animals start turning up dead, the ship’s captain (Liam Cunningham) and his determined first mate (David Dastmalchian) don’t immediately leap to the supernatural to explain things. The stranger things get, though, the more that changes, particularly when the ship’s doctor (Corey Hawkins) starts to notice a pattern in the violence, and a mysterious stowaway (Aisling Franciosi) sets out to convince the sailors that they’re dealing with more than just a rabies outbreak.


The cast, led by Cunningham and Hawkins, are all wonderfully game for this particular mission, giving the film the right amount of melodrama and gritty realism to make the whole thing feel like it’s got the pageantry of a Hammer Horror release and the dark frankness of Øvredal’s previous horror films like Trollhunter and The Autopsy Of Jane Doe. Autopsy in particular, with its single-location descent into terror, feels like a very good training ground for this kind of movie, and Øvredal proves he’s still got the chops to carry an audience through one location with poise and palpable dread. The Demeter itself always feels tactile, present, a character unto itself, and the cast are all so immersed in what they’re doing that it’s easy to smell the sea, feel the waves, and notice the fear beginning to creep in.

That fear is, of course, helped along by a very good vampire. Botet, under lots of heavy and very creepy makeup, is having a ball as Dracula, slinking around the ship like Ridley Scott’s Xenomorph, toying with his victims in one scene and going full-on animalistic in the next. He’s an immediately distinctive version of the monster who still retains a certain aesthetic that hearkens back to the days of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu and even Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot. No matter how much you see of him, you keep wanting a closer look, and that alone is enough to keep Demeter churning along at a pleasant, and pleasantly tense clip.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter | Official Trailer

Where the film starts to fall short is in putting all these ingredients together into a single narrative, complete with individual character arcs and a believable payoff. Sometimes the plot holds together while at other times the characters, including Dracula, simply make choices because the film decided they should, or because it would be creepy for something to happen despite an apparent flimsiness to the rules the film has established. It’s never enough of a problem to break the movie, but there’s an unevenness to the way the characters are explored that’s hard to ignore, particularly as the film makes the turn for home.

Despite this unevenness, there’s a lot to love in The Last Voyage Of The Demeter for horror fans and casual moviegoers alike. Even when it’s listing back and forth like a ship adrift, there’s always something to grab onto and steady the vessel, whether it’s the creature effects or the production design or the wonderful soundscape that blends the creaking and groaning of the ship with Bear McCreary’s atmospheric score. The whole thing plays, predictably, like Alien on a boat with Dracula as the alien, and while it’s not quite as satisfying as that masterpiece, The Last Voyage Of The Demeter is still worth the trip. It’s been a century, but Dracula is still a potent movie monster, and this film proves we haven’t run out of ways to use him yet.

The Last Voyage Of The Demeter opens in theaters August 11