Let’s say you meet a guy named Dracula. Like, actually named Dracula. It would be weird, right? That name comes with more than 125 years of connotation, a century-plus of accumulated cultural knowledge leaving just about anyone who’s so much as grazed the Western literary canon hardwired to associate “Dracula” with “FUCKING VAMPIRE.”
This means any story about Dracula, like the 2023 movie The Last Voyage of the Demeter, has a huge cultural hurdle to clear. Dracula is so ingrained in the culture that virtually all vampire fiction is commenting on him in some way, and any story directly invoking the Big Undead Man himself has to immediately figure out how it’s going to escape or lean into the powerful gravitational pull of Bram Stoker’s novel. This isn’t the worst problem in the world; a clever storyteller can do a lot with such a wide base of cultural knowledge. The potential for dramatic irony here is frankly delicious. The Last Voyage of the Demeter, however, is not clever.
Directed by André Øvredal with a script credited to Bragi Schut Jr. and Bullet Train’s Zak Olkewicz, The Last Voyage of the Demeter loosely adapts the captain’s log entries from Stoker’s Dracula, a section of the 1897 novel that briefly details how the vampire made his way from his native Transylvania to England. The log entries are a good bit of epistolary horror — the equivalent of found footage, in literary form — about the captain and crew of the merchant vessel Demeter slowly realizing that something is very wrong on their ship. Dracula, hidden in a crate of earth being shipped as cargo, begins picking off the crew one by one until the Demeter is found wrecked on the rocky shores of Whitby, England.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter imagines what the novel mostly implies, a two-hour expansion of the Demeter’s doomed journey that trades the novel’s Gothic horror for something akin to Ridley Scott’s Alien, but with more melodrama and less subtlety. The film follows Clemens (Corey Hawkins of In the Heights), an itinerant Black doctor who joins the crew of the Demeter mostly by chance. While the ship’s captain, Eliot (Game of Thrones’ Liam Cunningham), welcomes Clemens aboard, the crew regards him with suspicion — partly because he’s a newcomer among a tight-knit group of sailors, and partly because of prejudices they harbor.
Clemens, in their eyes, has two marks against him: his race and his education. To the crew, the latter in particular means he’s likely unaccustomed to the physical demands of life at sea, and no different from the cargo they must safeguard across the ocean. The Last Voyage of the Demeter makes very little of this dynamic. It’s mostly functional, a character beat meant to help foster mistrust as the vampire begins picking off cattle and crew.
In fact, The Last Voyage of the Demeter makes very little of most of its potential assets. It’s a film with no vision, a puzzling adaptation that’s so straightforward, viewers might believe every beat comes from Stoker’s novel and not a screenplay imagining what happened between the pages. Maybe the two decades the film spent in development, being rewritten and recast, are to blame; every colorful choice seems to have been wrung out of the script. At every moment, there’s potential for Demeter to become something distinct and interesting, but the screenplay and Øvredal’s direction choose otherwise, embracing straightforward competence over any style or flair. It’s dry historical fiction, Horatio Hornblower’s Dracula.
This is a film that has the potential to be a paranoid thriller, but dodges paranoia as quickly as possible. It’s a slasher film that resists racking up a body count, a supernatural horror film that isn’t particularly interested in exploring the supernatural. Most importantly, it’s a vampire film about the most famous of vampires, with virtually none of the subtext that makes the bloodsuckers so frightening and enduring, nor the camp that can make them so fun. It’s a standard monster movie, with an indistinct and undistinguished monster.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter is a frustrating movie. The audience knows what to expect from vampires, but the characters do not, and without compelling characterization or stylistic flair, we’re left watching them be idiots in denial for two hours. Seriously — there’s a scene where the characters find the crate where Dracula sleeps, know that’s what it is, that he’s already killed most of the crew, and that they have a powerful weapon against him, and then… do nothing about it? It boggles the mind.
There are no surprises in The Last Voyage of the Demeter. Just about everything in the story plays out exactly how the average horror fan might assume it would, exactly how they know it will, because the movie begins with the end of the story, then does little to play up the dread that comes with that knowledge. And most of us, unfortunately, know too much about this story already. Haven’t you heard? The guy’s name is Dracula.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter debuts in theaters on Aug. 11.