THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER [Blu-Ray Review] – All Aboard For Ultraviolence.

J.L. Caraballo
IG @captzaff007
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Just in time for spooky season, director André Øvredal‘s latest film, The Last Voyage Of The Demeter, has hit blu-ray and streaming. I was lucky enough to receive an early copy for review, and was surprised at how lean and unforgiving this film is. It fits right in the mood of the spirit of the season, although it is a bit more punishing than expected. Still, for gorehounds, or as an amus bouche to prepare you for more artistic or unique takes on the vampire genre, this movie will more than satisfy.

Adapted from the excerpt from Bram Stoker‘s eponymous novel, Dracula, which describes — through a series of entries from the captain’s log — the ill-fated journey of the Demeter, this film is atmospheric enough to get a sense of foreboding, but seems to suffer from a lack of levity (which I’ll get into in a bit). Focusing on Doctor Clemens (Corey Hawkins) — a wayward doctor who sets sail aboard the Demeter, which has been hired to transport several dozen crates from Transylvania to London — we get a clear sense of the Demeter’s crew, from her captain, Elliott (Liam Cunningham), to first mate and quartermaster, Wojchek (David Dasmaltchian), to Toby (Woody Norman), Captain Elliott’s grandson and keeper of the livestock. The film jumps right in as we see the ship being loaded up for its journey, and as Clemens gets hired for his medical skills. Soon enough the ship is underway for a journey of several weeks’ travel, and in even shorter time, the crew finds themselves being stalked by a creature that has been secreted aboard: none other than Dracula himself. Pretty straightforward stuff.

Director Øvredal has an eye for iconic imagery and knowing how to conceive of a great shot, and the cast manage to imbue their respective characters with enough of a personality to make themselves distinct from one another, but never quite emerging as “real” people with dimension or depth. Elliott, for example, is introduced as the grizzled yet wise captain who is on this, his last voyage aboard his vessel (“He was only THREE days from retirement!”), and my wife had the sense to note that Liam Cunningham has the “grizzled old man” schtick down pat. Wojchek is wary and suspicious of Clemens, tries hard to rationalize the supernatural happenings aboard the vessel…until he has to no longer do so. A mysterious stowaway, Anna (Aisling Franciosi), speaks in riddles when she isn’t in a coma, until the third act starts up and she becomes Action Girl; and the ship’s cook, Joseph (Jon Jon Briones), is the penitent, religious type, and doesn’t stray much further from that trait. The only character, strangely, who shows any depth or inner life is Toby; actor Woody Norman is quite convincing as a child who is trying hard to impress his grandfather, and is a member of the crew, but still has moments that remind us, the audience, that he is indeed just a child. After the ship’s animal compliment gets slaughtered, Toby feels not just for the loss of the ship’s dog, Huckleberry, but also for having let down his grandfather, since his responsibility was to the animals. Of all the actors, he was the most compelling.

There’s a sense here that director André Øvredal might have been somewhat constrained by the limitations of studio filmmaking; his prior films play very fast and loose, and have a playful sense of humor about them that feels lacking here. Troll Hunter works not just as an adventure yarn, but also as a playful mockumentary, and showcases a lot of his talents. Perhaps the constriction of the setting worked against his instincts, but aside from a few well-conceived stalking scenes of Dracula hunting down the crew during some foggy scenes, the action seems derivative. He has a keen sense of relaying location to the audience, though: the layout of the Demeter itself is clear, so at no point was there confusion as to where characters were in relation to each other.

Cinematographer Tom Stern‘s work is luscious on the blu-ray release. The blues of the ocean, the shadows stalking in the fog, the dim recesses of the Demeter’s interior…all of it is beautifully transferred on the disc. This is perhaps the crispest of André Øvredal’s films, and on an OLED screen, everything pops. Perhaps more than any other sequences, the scenes of Dracula stalking through the fog is best rendered here: just the barest outline of a shadow can be seen, the briefest movement tracked. Watching at home was a blast due simply to how well the film was transferred. Equally impressive are the practical effects by designer Göran Lundström: it’s great to see and almost FEEL the practical gore effects and blood spill. And on that note: I always give props to any movie willing to kill off kids, but DAMN this movie goes all in on that front.

Ultimately, this is a straightforward film that gets in, gets out, and doesn’t seem to bother itself with any subtext, metatext, or anything of that sort. Just good, old fashioned ultraviolence. That might be enough to sate the goriest of gore-hounds, but those looking for something a bit deeper or memorable that does more than just look crisp on a home TV set might have get a bit restless by the end.

3/5 blood transfusions

The Last Voyage Of The Demeter is now available on home video and streaming