The Last Voyage of the Demeter Review: Fatally Undermined by Prequelitis

After the better part of two decades in development purgatory, The Last Voyage of the Demeter—a prequel/adaptation of a single chapter in Bram Stoker’s classic work of gothic horror, Dracula—arrives on multiplex screens courtesy of, among others, Universal Pictures. Actors and directors, some more noteworthy than others, came and went, but actual production repeatedly stalled due to executive shake-ups, shifting priorities, and other, lesser-known (or unknown) reasons. Eventually, studio turmoil shifted to a modicum of stability, giving director André Øvredal (The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Trollhunter) and the screenwriting team of Bragi F. Schut (Samaritan, Escape Room) and Zak Olkewicz (Bullet Train, Fear Street: Part Two – 1978), the opportunity to bring the hitherto unadapted chapter from Stoker’s novel to the big screen.

The results, however, suggest that either the undercooked screenplay needed to marinate for another decade or two or, more likely than not, the promise inherent in the premise was never meant for anything more than what it always was, a chapter—the seventh—in Stoker’s epistolary novel, and not a feature-length film like The Last Voyage of the Demeter. The outcome, already predetermined by its placement in the novel (not to mention the title), makes it almost impossible to feel like Øvredal’s film is anything more — and sometimes considerably less— than a slasher-style prequel or prologue to a larger story.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter opens promisingly enough, with the cargo ship of the title broken and sundered on the English seashore. Before moviegoers can get too comfortable, a lone watchman finds the logbook and another man reads out the last, doom-laden words of the captain before he perished and his crew mysteriously disappeared—the individual and collective victims of an unexplained phenomenon. Of course, the audience on the other side of the screen already knows what happened: The captain, Eliot (Liam Cunningham), and his men lost a battle for their lives and souls to the über-vampire, Dracula (Javier Botet).

The version of Dracula the crew encounters borders on the inhuman (or the non-human), and is masterfully realized by a practically-oriented makeup effects team working at their next-level best. Driven by a seemingly insatiable need for human and animal blood, and ferocious, feral, and voracious in unequal terms, Dracula feeds on the crew to live (and lives to feed), growing stronger with the blood of each new victim. That, in turn, puts the ever-dwindling survivors in increasingly greater peril, as their respective odds diminish with the arrival of the moon every night.


Using Alien as a template, The Last Voyage of the Demeter contrasts the instinct-driven vampire against a crew of working-class seamen. Offered a bonus for reaching London on an aggressive timeline, the men, distinguished by their bearing, facial hair, and accents, repeatedly set aside personal concerns in exchange for the promise of said bonus once they arrive in London. In a telling scene, the men sit around the mess, each one volunteering their most hoped-for dream, retirement for the captain and his preteen ward, Toby (Woody Norman), to a modest home in Ireland, a brothel for another man, and an oblivion-seeking binge for another.

One crewman in particular, Clemens (Corey Hawkins), a doctor by trade, cares little for money and instead hopes for an elusive answer regarding the meaning of it all. The “all” refers to the racist, exclusionary treatment he faced as a black man in England, and the fact he’s trained in medicine, but unable to practice his chosen profession anywhere except a sailing ship. In time, Clemens emerges as the not unexpected nominal hero of The Last Voyage of the Demeter. An unwitting stowaway, Anna (Aisling Franciosi), joins him as nominal co-hero/co-protagonist, while Toby, an eager, inquisitive preteen, befriends the obviously wise Clemens.

Clemens’s beliefs in science, reason, and rationality don’t stand a chance against the vampire’s supernatural powers. Even faith, usually exemplified by a cross-bearing character, offers nothing more than a temporary respite from the throat-ripping terror Dracula represents. That alone tips The Last Voyage of the Demeter into territory bordering on the bleak and nihilistic. If nothing can withstand the vampire’s attacks—not rationality, not faith, and not unity—then death becomes not a matter of if, but when, for the rapidly dwindling supply of survivors.

Øvredal acquits himself reasonably well set-piece-wise, exploiting the claustrophobic, rain-soaked ship for maximum impact. As Dracula hacks necks and slashes throats, though, a dulling sense of sameness begins to creep into the film. Once you’ve seen two or three violent blood-lettings of the crew, you’ve more or less seen them all. Only an admirable late-film turn toward utter hopelessness helps to ameliorate the overwhelming familiarity. Almost as quickly, The Last Voyage of the Demeter ends in with an unnecessarily soporific thud, the likely result of studio interference. (All doors, especially sequel-related doors, should be left ajar.)


In hindsight, The Last Voyage of the Demeter would have been better served as either a standalone film unconnected to Dracula and his mythos or lore or as a stealth prequel where the audience, like the mostly doomed characters on the screen, remains unaware of the eventual, inevitable outcome. The rules of commerce-oriented studios and intellectual property, however, dictate that pop culture or brand recognition will always trump originality or novelty.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter opens in theatres Friday, August 11.