Review by Cole Groth
A few years ago, Universal unleashed its own cinematic universe. Remember it? The Dark Universe was a planned series of classic monsters meant to come together in a nightmarish MCU-type world. When Tom Cruise’s The Mummy bombed, the whole thing was scrapped. Years later, Universal is looking to keep the general premise — classic monster stories reimagined — and while the rollout is bizarre, the films produced so far (The Invisible Man, Renfield, and now The Last Voyage of the Demeter), have all been decent. With a fantastic look and intense scares, Demeter will wow horror fans dying for a good vampire movie. For general audiences, this might be a slow and far-too-dour adventure.
Taking place over a single chapter of Bram Stoker’s horror classic Dracula, Demeter follows the doomed crew of a ship transporting mysterious cargo containing the terrifying Count Dracula and the bloodshed that befalls as he continues to feed. From the introduction of the characters to the bitter end, the film, written by Bragi Schut Jr. & Zak Olkewicz, operates on a familiar level. Dracula kills. People try to defeat him. Whatever preconceived notions you have of the story going into it won’t be broken, but for most, that’s perfectly fine.
From a cinematic perspective, this is one great-looking movie. There’s not a moment where the immersion is broken. Tom Stern’s fantastic cinematography and the perfect set design draw you straight into the terrifying ship ride. For a movie that’s so visually dark, there are few moments where it feels like a struggle (at least unintentionally). While it shouldn’t have to be considered high praise, in 2023, it’s satisfying to see a movie that never once feels like CGI. It looks like most of the work was done practically, and whatever stuff was composited is seamless.
If you’re looking for gore, Demeter will satisfy. Continuing with the praise of how good this looks, the special effects of each of Dracula’s kills are very well done. It’s unsettling to watch characters get viciously maimed by Dracula — it’s hard not to be impressed with how accurate it looks. You’ll undoubtedly squirm unless you’re desensitized to gore, but fortunately, it doesn’t feel too over the top, like a Saw movie.
The cast is yet another great part of the film, led by an excellent Corey Hawkins. David Dastmalchian continues to prove he’s one of the best character actors working today. He is surrounded by a cast of talented actors in Aisling Franciosi, Liam Cunningham, Chris Walley, Woody Norman, and others. Each character feels fully immersive and adds to overall praise I have to offer of the production.
As it stands, The Last Voyage of the Demeter is a beautifully shot, well-acted, terrifying new fantasy/horror film. It’s a shame that it drags at specific points, though, because it would certainly be more entertaining if it weren’t 2 hours long. That, combined with its general predictability, makes it sometimes feel like a bit of a slog. While this won’t rise to the list as the best horror movie of the year, it’s far from bad. Society loves to hyperbolize films as being the best or the worst, and films like this should remind us that sometimes we need movies that are just good.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter releases in theaters starting August 11.