Thursday, June 20, 2024

Film Review: “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” – A Haunting Missed Opportunity

Clemens (Corey Hawkins) and Anna (Aisling Franciosi) Pictures courtsey of Universal

Where to Watch: In theaters

Release Date: August 11

Runtime: 1h 59m

Rated: R

Cast: Corey Hawkins, Aisling Franciosi, Liam Cunningham, David Dastmalchian

Synopsis: Sinister and chilling occurrences besiege an ill-fated crew as their struggle for survival on the perilous journey from Transylvania to London is marred by haunting events. Night after night, an unrelenting malevolence (embodied by the legendary vampire Dracula) lurks onboard, casting a shroud of terror. The voyage culminates as the Demeter approaches English shores, its once-proud form now reduced to a smoldering, desolate wreck, devoid of life. A haunting mystery lingers, with the crew’s fate cloaked in an enigma, leaving behind an eerie void.

In the dimly lit sea on a 19th-century ship, the stage seemed set for a nightmarish horror film moviegoers could enjoy. The prospect of Dracula, the iconic vampire, trapped onboard the vessel as the focal point intrigued me along with other fellow movie lovers. However, despite its chilling premise, The Last Voyage of the Demeter (LVD) struggles to harness its potential, leaving audiences yearning for the true terror that should have been.

As the film unfurls, the narrative’s pacing reveals its first flaw. Tediously introducing the ship’s crew, the characters (for all their stereotypical personas of boisterous sailors) fail to distinguish themselves. Even the protagonist, Clemens, portrayed by Corey Hawkins (yes, the same Corey Hawkins who played Dr. Dre in the NWA biopic), only gradually unravels his background, leaving an underwhelming impact. Clemens, an educated Black doctor, promises layers of complexity. Still, his origin story (including the impact of his race) remains frustratingly underexplored until the film’s third act, devoid of the empowering or emotional revelation one would expect. I’m not saying that Hawkins is a bad actor; honestly, he plays the role well, but the direction and writing of the character did not fair well. 

Also, I don’t understand why the men hired to pack and staff the ship didn’t detail what the evil specimen was onboard. They all just repeated, “That’s the devil’s marking, I’m not getting on this boat with that evil spirit”. Why not just disclose there is a monster in there that will suck your blood and/or kill you? 

There is a  stowaway named Anna, played by Aisling Franciosi, who appears on the ship as a pivotal figure in the unfolding narrative. However, the film’s potential is undercut by perplexing plot holes that cast a shadow over her impact. As she speaks and responds to the shipmates’ demise, a barrage of unanswered questions looms, leaving myself and other audience members confused. The intended chemistry between Anna and Clemens fails to ignite as anticipated. While the actors perform admirably, the characters’ development fails to evoke the intended emotional resonance.

Javier Botet as Dracula Pictures courtesy of Universal

The film does, however, boast some commendable elements. Notably, the meticulous attention to lighting, costume design, and set construction transports the audience to the grimy, vermin-ridden ship of yore. These moments provide immersive glimpses into the harrowing voyage. Yet, these flashes of authenticity are fleeting, as the film stumbles to maintain its grip on the audience when Dracula is shown on screen, or when the ship’s inhabitants go into exposition about their lives. 

Enter Dracula, whose appearance fails to evoke the dread and terror synonymous with his name. The decision to portray him with a Gollum-like visage, marred by a grotesque set of jagged teeth, falls dishearteningly flat. The film’s few instances of genuine tension stem from the subtle glimpses of the vampire lurking in the shadows. These moments serve as a testament to the potential that remains unfulfilled by the rest of the film.

Clemens (Corey Hawkins) and Anna (Aisling Franciosi) Pictures courtsey of Universal

When assessing the fear factor, The Last Voyage of the Demeter falls short. Dracula’s appearance fails to inspire dread, and the kills lack the spine-chilling impact necessary to qualify as a true horror experience. One notable exception is a sequence involving the pursuit of a young boy, which briefly taps into an elusive sense of fear. The visceral reaction from my friend beside me during this scene validated the experience that I, too, had during that scene. 

In conclusion, The Last Voyage of the Demeter struggles to capture the essence of horror that its premise promises. While the film boasts moments of visual immersion and fleeting tension, it ultimately pales in comparison to the book’s sinister chapters. One may find a better experience in revisiting the source material and imagining their own vision of Dracula’s terror. As the credits roll, the verdict is clear: this voyage does not necessitate a hasty trip to the theater.

Dapper Dr Feel

Felipe Patterson aka Dapper Dr. Feel, #BlackLoveConvo & Entertainment | @fdapperdr Dapper Dr. Feel is a Entertainment journalist and member of the Critics Choice Association and African American Film Association.

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