Manifest Destiny: ‘Demeter’ explores ship’s cargo and Dracula’s days pre-Whitby…

With a feeling of 'Hammer' at the rudder, 'Demeter' sails familiar waters but delivers a claustrophobic hack/slash...

The Demeter is about to set off on a voyage across the sea from Eastern Europe to London. Its unusual cargo is a serious of crates with a dragon-like emblem stamped upon them and some of the usual reliable harbour-help refuse to deal with them.  Seeking passage to England, a young doctor named Clemens manages to talk his way on to the ship but soon after the voyage has begun, i is clear that something unusual is happening aboard the Demeter. Something is attacking the crew and a mysterious woman turns up in one of the crates – and when she finally awakes she has a tragic story to tell.

It now becomes clear that whether the Demeter finally arrives at its intended destination or not, the decisions of its crew may determine whether a great and deadly enemy is let loose once more…



There’s a certain irony to the fact that though The Last Voyage of the Demeter has its compass set for the coastal enclave of Whitby, the good people of the UK won’t actually get to see this  horror-tale while various distributor-changes are being sorted… however US audiences get to set sail from this weekend. Those who know their classic literature lore, will recognise the ship of the title as the vessel that was to bring Dracula to British shores (specifically Whitby) in Bram Stoker’s timeless classic. In the tome itself, the captain’s log is relayed as part of a single chapter, giving an early sense of foreboding about the cursed cargo. The aim of this latest film is to flesh out those specific entries.

Though not a slave to the original paragraphs of text, the film takes the basic premise of the ship’s voyage, along with some of the named crew and expands it out, keeping the essential beats and giving them some nuance. The film benefits from a talented cast, but an ensemble devoid of the ‘A-List’ name that might usually anchor such an endevour.

Our entry-point is a new character, Corey Hawkins (24: Legacy, 6 Underground) playing ‘Clemens’, a young doctor who is travelling the world looking for general answers to the human condition. His profession and the colour of his skin don’t make him an instant hit with the grizzled sailors, but when he saves the life of the captain’s son, he earns passage with them to England. The strange cargo – crates that seem to be full of soil – go from an enigma to a real danger as the Demeter’s crew first find an unconscious woman, Anna, packed inside one and then find their own numbers depleted as something else wanders the ship at night, taking bites out of unsuspecting souls on deck. Initially the crew suspect Anna or  Clemens (as they are the only new ‘faces’) but it is clear that they have neither the strength nor guile to be the perpetrator. That, however, leaves them wondering what exactly they do have onboard… and so begins the traditional horror format that involves whittling down (or, here, the exsanguination of) the film’s cast, one by one.

 Perhaps, with a more nuanced script and scope, this could have been a truly epic entry – a previous, simple aside given full berth and body to become the first building block of the legend – but the result, acceptable though it is, plays safe and is more an echo of the template days of the Hammer era albeit with the latest visual effects and pace. 

The cast also includes Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones), David Dastmalchian (Suicide Squad), Aisling Franciosi  (Game of Thrones, The Fall), Jon Jon Briones (Star Trek: Picard). It’s interesting that though Javier Botet is credited with playing Dracula, there seem to be very few scenes when the creation is not just CGI – the physical scenes mostly being glimpses of a scurrying or ghoulish-looming figure and an epilogue scene. It’s a shame that for most of the film, Dracula’s presence is completely free of any enigmatic persona and reduced to a stalking bogeyman and beast and savage animal… it would have been far more interesting to see a creation that could exercise both subtle influence and savagery to survive the journey.

André Øvredal (Troll Hunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe and Tunnelen) is a solid director and provides a competent telling of the story. The mid-ocean voyage location is convincing, though the ship’s interiors were filmed on gimbal-controlled stages in Berlin, there’s no doubt that the director and his team caught the feel of a true ship (and the valiant cast have spoken about the induced sea-sickness they endured with tons of water and wind thrown at the crew). The VFX are decent, helped by the shadows, lighting, askew set and cinematography. Perhaps, with a more nuanced script and scope, this could have been a truly epic entry – a previous, simple aside given full berth and body to become the first building block of the legend- but the result, acceptable though it is, plays it safe and is more an echo of the template days of the Hammer era albeit with the latest visual effects and pace.

The film does its best to slightly subvert the limitations and expectations but that’s a double-edged stake. A few deaths come unexpectedly in some scenes, but being a prequel to a genuine classic tale, established lore suggests that we know there were no survivors so despite a somewhat inevitable have-it-both-ways pay-off, we know much of the outcome. Given that we know this is just a slither of a far-more expansive story, there comes with it a feeling of frustration that there isn’t quite enough at play here and it’s hard to marry the depiction of Dracula in the rest of the novel with the sheer boogeyman animal depicted here.

Ultimately, perhaps The Last Voyage of the Demeter is best enjoyed as a self-contained appendix rather than an illuminated text.

'The Last Voyage of the Demeter'  (film review)
'The Last Voyage of the Demeter' (film review)
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