“To die, to be really dead, that must be glorious. There are far worse things awaiting man than death.” - Count Dracula
If lukewarm was an emotion that’s how I would describe what my feelings were toward the upcoming release of The Last Voyage of the Demeter. With certain releases studios, for obvious reasons, really put a considerable amount of time, energy and perhaps most significantly money into advertising for their more major properties. For a three or four month period the trailers and tv spots for these movies can feel downright inescapable. You almost start to see the images in your dreams. Oppenheimer and Barbie come to mind. And then there are releases like Demeter.
If a studio does little to virtually zero advertising for a movie like this it makes you question just how excited are we supposed to be if the studio that literally funded it isn’t really even standing behind it? The Last Voyage of the Demeter came out of nowhere and everything about its presence felt second hand and unsupported. It felt insignificant as if a straight to streaming movie somehow slipped through the cracks and made its way to the big screen. And instead of stopping it the studio just said “the hell with it” and like the rest of us are watching to see what happens. Having seen the film I can’t exactly fault them but I would argue it still deserved better effort in the marketing campaign.
Because of their obvious lack of belief in this movie my expectations were unsurprisingly low. In fact if I hadn’t been invited to an early and most importantly free showing I might have skipped it entirely. I’m glad I didn’t miss this one though because even though it may not be the most inspired movie of the year, it’s far better than it ever appeared to be in the trailers.
André Øvredal, director of The Last Voyage of the Demeter, has helmed such projects as Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Troll Hunter and The Autopsy of Jane Doe. While these horror stories are solid features, what they demonstrate best is his overall improvement as a filmmaker. The confidence to explore is more apparent with each new movie. The Autopsy of Jane Doe is almost entirely in a basement morgue. Troll Hunter was on a bigger scale but it’s found footage. With Scary Stories we really start to see the culmination of his experience creating a surprisingly strong release. And now The Last Voyage, while mostly on a 1800’s cargo ship, still feels bigger in scale featuring massive shots of a vast ocean surrounding the doomed crew of the Demeter. The many scenes of a storm riddled setting as the ship rocks in every conceivable direction to the point of nausea is all handled wonderfully and surprisingly with a great amount of depth.
What could have ultimately just been a forgettable slasher like horror movie with Dracula rather than a Ghostface type, it brings with it a considerable amount of heft to its themes of isolation and paranoia. While the gore and blood are prevalent it becomes something so much more as it adds an element of gothic peril and sadness to its characters’ journey across the open ocean. As Dracula, depicted here as more beast than man, strikes, he then recoils to hide until he is able to feed again. As bodies begin to fall and zero witnesses come forth they begin to question the validity of something evil aboard but rather they wonder if it’s merely a fellow seaman committing these atrocious acts. Do they search for a madman or brace for impending death as the living embodiment of evil has boarded their vessel? Paranoia begins to plague their every waking moment as blood is spilled and lives are lost. Isolated on the vast ocean they only have one another to turn to if they have any hope of surviving this ill-fated voyage.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter is an origin story of sorts about the earlier days of Dracula and his trek to more Central and Eastern European countries. In order to get there however he must board the cursed vessel known as the Demeter. Though evil and cruel he is still very much flesh and blood and must feed to survive. His food source? The damned crew of the Demeter. As land fades behind them and the promise of the safe harbors of London are weeks away they are at the mercy of a blood thirsty, ancient creature with zero quarter for man. Their numbers are dwindling and reality as they know it begins to skew.
One of my favorite aspects to truly great horror movies is the idea of no character being safe. I don’t care how big the actor’s name is, in Hollyweird or on the poster, they will likely not be spared. Losing leading man Chris Hemsworth in The Cabin in the Woods was shocking and exciting. Drew Barrymore was arguably at the height of her acting career as she perished mercilessly and violently in the first twenty minutes of Scream. While The Last Voyage doesn’t exactly have that one big actor like those I just named it still provides a false feeling of safety only to rip it out from under the audience. I won’t say anything in particular as to avoid spoilers but a dog named Huck is brought on board the ship and this movie plays no favorites. Kids, dogs, the elderly and the young alike all face the impending menace with little hope of survival.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter isn’t going to receive any accolades like best horror movie of the year but I think in the end it will garner the audience it deserves. And with the potential of future stories just waiting to be told, this vile interpretation of the prince of darkness may not be finished just yet.
Rated R For: bloody violence
Runtime: 118 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Starring: Corey Hawkins, Aisling Franciosi, Liam Cunningham, David Dastmalchian
Directed By: André Øvredal
Out of 10
Story: 8/ Acting: 8/ Directing: 8.5/ Visuals: 7.5
Buy to Own: Yes
Check out the trailer below: