‘The Last Voyage of the Demeter’ Review: A Dracula Movie To Give You Nightmares

Dracula's sea voyage from Romania to England is full black nights and unspeakable horrors in this hair-raising horror film from director André Øvredal.

Martin Furulund and Javier Botet in The Last Voyage of the Demeter. Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

On a dank, dreary and dismal night in 1897, a chartered Russian tanker called the Demeter left Romania for England with an under-staffed crew, its only cargo a series of coffins in the shape of wooden boxes. In the ominous black nights that followed, a chaos of death, destruction and unspeakable horrors ensued. When the Demeter finally arrived at its destination, the ship was empty. Nobody ever solved the mystery. Until now. 

Directed by: André Øvredal
Written by: Bragi Schut Jr., Zak Olkewicz
Starring: Corey Hawkins, Aisling Franciosi, Liam Cunningham, David Dastmalchian
Running time: 119 mins.

And so begins The Last Voyage of the Demeter, a longer dramatization of a brief chapter in Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel, Dracula. It took up only a few pages in the 1897 book and no more than a single scene in the 1931 film with Bela Lugosi, but now we can see what really happened on that fatal voyage from Transylvania to London. It’s pretty foreboding, loaded with atmosphere, dark as midnight and thick as a deadly fog. Also very well made and justifiably terrifying.

Distilled from details in the captain’s log discovered in an empty cabin, the narrative moves forward from one bloody encounter after the next as the remains of the most evil Carpathian count of all time rises from the soil of his native country and wreaks havoc—first attacking the livestock used for meat to feed the crew, then the dog that was their mascot. There are some grotesque eating scenes when the monster comes alive and, one by one, drains the jugulars of everyone onboard. Then, in the eye of a violent and brilliantly staged storm, the creature goes on a rampage of relentless horror and savagely feasts on several humans who replace the animals as the missing protein on the menu, including the captain’s beloved cabin boy. Dracula’s victims all go up in fiery flames and burn to ashes, including Anna, a stowaway who turns out to be one of the vampire’s intended brides. She escapes her coffin, narrowly evades her own annihilation, and helps the crew to defeat the enemy. One day away from the coast of England, the handful of crew members still alive decide to sink the ship and send the beast to a watery grave, but they don’t know Dracula.  

Corey Hawkins and Aisling Franciosi in The Last Voyage of the Demeter. Rainer Bajo/Universal

As the only living survivor when the ship finally reaches port, a man named Hawkins follows the vampire, garbed in a long black cloak like Jack the Ripper, through the murky cobblestone alleys of London, determined to spend the rest of his life tracking down the maniac and driving a stake through his heart. It’s all vigorously detailed and hair-raisingly enhanced with extraordinary computer-generated special effects. The cast is unknown (to me, anyway) but under the guidance of André Øvredal, the Norwegian director of the cult films Trollhunter and The Autopsy of Jane Doe, they all excel in complex and physically demanding roles, including Corey Hawkins as Clemens, Aisling Franciosi as Anna, and Liam Cunningham as the captain. Special effects are excellent and the clammy cinematography by Tom Stern is enough to give you nightmares. Filmed in Malta, a rare film location I’d like to see more of.

Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.

‘The Last Voyage of the Demeter’ Review: A Dracula Movie To Give You Nightmares