Dracula: Voyage of the Demeter – movie review

Dracula: Voyage of the Demeter is an atmospheric horror movie based on a chapter from Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic novel Dracula. It concerns the terrifying story of the merchant ship Demeter, chartered to carry private cargo – 50 unmarked wooden crates – from Carpathia to London.

Captain Eliot (Liam Cunningham) has already decided this will be his last voyage ahead of retirement. He has anointed his first mate, Wojchek (David Dastmalchian), to assume his post. Joining the crew is a well-spoken, Cambridge-educated doctor, Clemens (Corey Hawkins). At first, the ship makes steady progress and all are in line for the monetary bonus that will come with their early arrival in port. The discovery of an unwitting stowaway, Anna (Aisling Franciosi), changes everything. She is all but dead and her survival is squarely in the hands of the medico, who arranges ongoing blood transfusions. It’s a portent of what is to follow, because for centuries Anna’s village has been plagued by the bloodthirsty Dracula.

In Stoker’s book, the ship’s final voyage is written as an excerpt in a newspaper. Screenwriters Bragi Schut Jr. and Zak Olkewicz have adapted that and run with it. That includes a little detail about those on the ship. Some are rough and ready, others decent, but, of course, the real story is their predetermined fate. Dracula grows from a grey shadowy figure to a giant flying vulture with bat wings. One-by-one those aboard the Demeter are “picked off”. Much attention is focused on the doctor and his desire to make sense of the world and of the entity that is plaguing the ship. The story is greatly enhanced by the production and sound design, which lay the foundations for the ordeal faced by those aboard the vessel.

Corey Hawkins comes across as a respectable man of science, who has copped a bad rap because of his skin colour (he is a Black man). Trust grows between the doc and Anna, whom he saves, as the voyage unfolds. Aisling Franciosi brings a greater sense of understanding than the others to her representation of the castaway. The captain runs a tight ship. An experienced navigator, nevertheless he is way out of his depth here. Liam Cunningham well captures his transition, as fear consumes all. There’s a dark edge to David Dastmalchian as Wojchek, a Polish orphan who has spent his entire life at sea and regards the Demeter as his one true home.

I got what I anticipated from Dracula: Voyage of the Demeter. It has impact, but few – if any – surprises. At nearly two hours, it becomes a long sit. Nevertheless, the Norwegian director Andre Ovredal has captured the somber mood and frightening essence of the Dracula story.

Alex First

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