Looking to stream a PG-13 scare during the Spooky Season? Universal Studio’s The Last Voyage of the Demeter is Jump-Scare-Cinema just for you!
In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the Demeter is little more than a footnote. A means to an end, explaining how he gets from Transylvania to London: The Count couldn’t just fly across the Atlantic in 1893. The trip took approximately two weeks by sea, and Dracula did not have an appetite for seafood. While chartering a ship and feasting on the crew was a 2-for-1 deal, it’s also an exciting premise for a horror movie.
Unbeknownst to the crew, the Demeter is transporting one of the most dangerous pieces of cargo ever, Dracula. Literally, that’s all one needs to know about Last Voyage. Dracula on a boat should be an easy recipe for success. Slap a PG-13 rating on it, and it’s no surprise Universal greenlit this late August release.
There’s always an audience for Dracula. He’s one of those iconic horror characters, even though his story has been done to death (pun intended). In 2023 alone, there’s been 2 major studio releases with Dracula at the center. Renfield asks “What would it be like to work for Dracula?” with the OG of Universal Monsters being played by Nicholas Cage donning silly make-up and hamming it up to the nines. Demeter does away with Dracula in human form, trading the cape for a gigantic humanoid bat. The aesthetics of Dracula alone is worth the cost of streaming during this spooky season. Leathery skin, beady eyes piercing through the darkness; I ate it up!
Those unfamiliar with the work of director André Øvredal are missing out on a collection of macabre from a very capable horror director. He made a splash with Troll Hunter, maximizing scares with the limitations of the first-person shaky cam sub-genre. Next, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, in which Brian Cox plays a coroner tasked with getting results for a local sheriff on a… yes, a dark and stormy night. So good! Øvredal then had critical and financial success with the PG-13 Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. While PG-13, Øvredal crafted an eerie atmosphere rife with haunting, disturbing imagery.
Demeter is a director’s film. There’s so much attention to detail. Øvredal teases the audience with Dracula throughout, and surprises with visual delight when offering frightful images of the Count. Pulling inspiration from Hammer films, Øvredal uses the limitations of a mid-sized budget to concentrate scares and build tension. Additionally impressive is the use of some gnarly practical visual effects. Heightening his craft, the design and set pieces create an immersive experience for the viewer who, like the crew, are trapped on the tomb that is the Demeter.
The cast is great. Corey Hawkins, coming off of The Tragedy of Macbeth, does exceptional work. His motivation is simple, in search of a better life. Yet, all that goes south when the “cargo” starts feasting on the crew. And David Dastmalchian! He’s always exciting to watch. Yes, he’s the kind of character actor made for a film like Demeter. Whether playing a psychotic in The Dark Knight, a traumatized victim in Prisoners, a sadist in Dune, or comedic turns in The Suicide Squad and the first two Ant-Man films, Dastmalchian always fills the screen. Here, he’s leaning more into those later roles as a skeptical member of the crew who’s bound to come undone by the finale. And that’s where the film starts to lose this viewer.
Traditional archetypes are welcome, but not when those characters follow a tired formula, and the plotting of Demeter is tiring. Once the killing begins, momentum stop. One-by-one the crew gets picked off, as expected. All the wonderful tone setting and character development becomes moot as we watch a hidden figure pull crew members into the darkness. Demeter could have been a hidden gem in a sea of Dracula picks. Instead, it gets lost at sea, weighed down with conventional plotting. That said, it’s a worthwhile “not-too-scary” entry in the horror genre; perfect to stream with friends, especially those cautious of horror.
Eager to be Pleased Friday Night Reaction: C+
Cinephile Review: B-
Critical Response: B-