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‘The Last Voyage of the Demeter’ Review
All the component parts of a good movie, but not one.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter is an object lesson in the idea that sometimes you can have every piece of a great—or at least pretty good, relatively enjoyable—movie present in a picture and still have that picture turn out kind of lousy.
It’s got a pretty good idea! Based on the short, influential “Log of the ‘Demeter’” section from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, we have a fairly solid high-concept action-horror movie: What if a crew sailing from a port on the Black Sea to Great Britain were stuck on a ship carrying a vampire? Could they stop the bloodsucking vampire from picking them off one at a time? Or are they all, as the log in the novel suggests, doomed?
It’s got a pretty good cast! Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton, The Tragedy of Macbeth, In the Heights) stars as Clemens, a doctor who joins the crew of the Demeter after saving the life of the grandson of Captain Elliot (Liam Cunningham, best known as Ser Davos from Game of Thrones). First Mate Wojchek (David Dastmalchian, seen most recently in Oppenheimer) is unsure of their new crew member and of the sick stowaway with bite marks they’ve found, Anna (Aisling Franciosi, who wowed critics with her performance as the lead in Jennifer Kent’s brutal thriller, Nightingale), but he and the rest of the crew have bigger problems in that they’re hauling, you guessed it, Dracula.
It looks pretty good! The cinematography is properly dark and moody without being confusing or murky; Tom Stern, who shot the movie, has worked on a bunch of Clint Eastwood projects, including his World War II diptych, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. And director André Øvredal, best known for the found-footage picture Trollhunter and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, has a solid eye.
Heck, it even sounds pretty good! Composer Bear McCreary did good work on Battlestar Galactica and Caprica, he kept Colossal feeling playful despite the dark undertones of the subject matter, and his music helped set the mood for 10 Cloverfield Lane, a movie that succeeds despite the fact it really has no reason whatsoever to exist. In Demeter the score sometimes gets a hair overbearing, but I don’t really blame McCreary, as the filmmakers are trying to get us to feel … well, anything, as the movie stagnates.
And this, really, is the problem. Every component part is there and even some of the extended sequences—like Dracula’s attack on Captain Elliot’s grandson—are pretty compelling. But at two hours long, the whole thing drags; it’s the cinematic equivalent of hitting the doldrums, getting stuck in dead water. There’s a two-minute stretch where Clemens and Anna are, for some reason, opening crates filled with dirt in the middle of the night rather than doing so during, you know, daylight hours. The whole thing is numbingly repetitive: nightfall, fog, attack, repeat, for the last 100 minutes or so of the movie. Dracula himself, played by Javier Botet, is reduced to a run-of-the-mill boogeyman, little more than a leathery, silent monster who pops out of the shadows every once in a while when no one’s bled onscreen for ten minutes.
It’s also just too dour to be much fun. You can get away with repetition and even a bit of mean-spiritedness in a movie like this if the audience is having fun; 30 Days of Night pulled off a similarly high-concept vampire movie (what if a town where the sun didn’t rise for a month was beset by bloodsuckers) with a similar run time at least in part because it understood that self-seriousness in movies such as these are deadly. Instead of a bear of a man driving a snow plow through an army of the undead, as in 30 Days, you get characters on a ship ominously intoning things like, “No man did this. Evil is aboard. Powerful evil.”
Simply put, The Last Voyage of the Demeter isn’t particularly scary and isn’t particularly thrilling and that’s why it fails. It’s a project that looks great on paper. Unfortunately, it just didn’t come together on the screen.