The Last Voyage of the Demeter Doesn’t Deserve to Be Forgotten

The Last Voyage of the Demeter
The Last Voyage of the Demeter

No matter how hard it tries, Hollywood can’t seem to get it right when it comes to beginning a new Universal Monsters franchise. This disinterest from audiences is especially apparent in the box office results of Universal’s latest attempt at a Monsters franchise: The Last Voyage of the Demeter. The movie grossed $16 million against a budget of $45 million, a number even more disappointing when you consider horror has been seriously helping keep the box office afloat post-pandemic.

However, several horror titles have managed to become cult films even after being box-office failures, and The Last Voyage of the Demeter more than deserves to be one of them. Rich with a sinister spirit and spine-tingling chills, the film is one of the most visually captivating and ravishingly crafted horror titles this year has to offer, and astutely manages to bypass the obvious possible problems that come with its premise.

Based on the seventh chapter of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the movie follows the crew of the Demeter ship who find that on their voyage from Transylvania to London, an evil being has invaded their ship — a being whom they call Dracula. On paper, this idea shouldn’t work out, as turning one chapter of a well-known classic into a full-length feature film comes with two obvious concerns.

The first is that because this is an early chapter, even people who haven’t read the book can already guess how it’s going to end, significantly lowering the stakes. After all, Dracula’s not going to die in the seventh chapter of a book called Dracula. However, the movie seems aware of this situation and embraces it, beginning with the Demeter itself washing ashore in England derelict and not a single person found alive. The captain’s log is then found and the movie flashbacks to four weeks earlier, just before the Demeter ventures off to London.

It’s an interesting framing device and a rather bold choice, starting off by telling us nobody survives on the ship, but if anything, it only works to the film’s advantage. There are no pretenses here: the movie doesn’t pretend that the Demeter has any chance of making it to London intact. Even the film’s title makes it clear that this is, in fact, the last voyage of the Demeter.

What the film does instead is lean into the fear that every human has: the fearful need to simply survive. Even if, by all means, the crew members seem stuck in a forlorn situation, you can feel every one of them cling to that sliver of hope that they’ll survive, no matter how much of an illusion it may be, simply because of their desperate need to do so. The movie does such a good job at it, anguish and terror rich in every frame, that you find yourself holding your breath holding on to this sliver of hope for the characters too, despite knowing better.

The second problem is that one short chapter (only 11 pages in my copy of Dracula) surely isn’t enough to sustain a two-hour runtime, right? The Last Voyage of the Demeter is a slower and more staid offering than most slashers, but never once is it listless. It revels in its tension and atmosphere, both so thick you can cut them with a knife.

This is, in large part, thanks to the beautiful marriage of assured direction and beautiful cinematography — for so many scenes, Demeter manages to be both gorgeous and ghastly, and director André Øvredal and cinematographer Tom Stern make an incredible duo. The two were the perfect pair for this project, as Øvredal has already proven how skilled he is at bone-chilling visual storytelling with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and The Autopsy of Jane Doe, and Stern has a rich cinematographer oeuvre, including Sully, Invictus, and Mystic River.

Filled with beautifully creative shots left and right and stunning production value, the film practically demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible, but even smaller screens won’t be able to contain its visual prowess. The clever use of fog and shadows to further strengthen the dark, claustrophobic atmosphere only adds to the goosebumps even more.

Credit is owed to the screenwriters, too, who managed to craft a breathtaking suspense-driven screenplay with excellent characters worth rooting for, adapted from a mere 11 pages where the characters weren’t even fleshed out. What could’ve been just an afterthought project became a challenge for writers Bragi Schut Jr. and Zak Olkewicz to create the most out of what little they had, and they didn’t waste a single moment, making Dracula a terrifying villain despite not having too much screen time.

It definitely helps that Dracula looks magnificent — this is an ingenious design, deviating from what we’re usually used to with Dracula or modern vampires in general. This isn’t a suave Fright Night vampire, or a Twilight or an Interview With a Vampire one; this is a demon of a creature, one you know you should run for your life from. With no need to charm a captive audience, Dracula is the type of monster nightmares are made of, the type straight out of an Arkham Horror Files game or an H.P. Lovecraft novel.

It really is disappointing that, despite ending openly enough to lead to sequels, The Last Voyage of the Demeter’s terrible box office performance has most likely nailed the coffin for whatever franchise they might’ve planned. Still, with such handsome visuals and spellbinding stylistic choices, perhaps the future isn’t too bleak for this movie, and it’ll find the strong audience it rightfully deserves now that it’s out on digital. The Demeter is a ship every horror fan needs to voyage on.

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