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It’s exceedingly rare that Roobla’s late with a review (we like to think), and it’s even rarer for us not to offer an apology in the event of such an occurrence, but this was one of those times. The year’s second high-profile take on the Dracula tale after Renfield, The Last Voyage of the Demeter has proved extremely difficult to nail down, owing to a production company takeover at the eleventh hour and a subsequent lack of distribution this side of the Atlantic.
But it’s here, at last, so was it worth the wait? That almost certainly depends on how big an aficionado of the Bram Stoker legend you are. If bloodsuckers float your boat then you’ll be suitably impressed; if not, well, there might be an apology in it for you after all.
Overall though, it has just enough style, swagger and suspense to render it a shame that it never saw the light of day in UK cinemas – and it’s certainly not as bad as some critics would have you believe. This is a retelling of Chapter Seven: The Captain’s Log rather than the whole novel, and one that, whilst significant to the story, is usually hurried along in film adaptations. One act of a story played out in its entirety on board a ship isn’t much to play with, so the movie punches slightly above its weight in terms of dimension and entertainment value. The Demeter itself is the ship that carried an intrepid crew from Carpathia, Eastern Europe, all the way to Whitby, Yorkshire. Unfortunately for them, Dracula was hidden inside the cargo.
That takes care of some critiquing and the background to The Last Voyage of the Demeter, so what else is there? Save for Liam Cunningham playing the ship’s captain, the cast will look mightily unfamiliar. Our main man is Clemens (Corey Hawkins), a qualified surgeon from Cambridge Medical School, no less, who’s fallen upon hard times due to his African-Caribbean lineage. He almost doesn’t make it as a crew member for the doomed voyage either, but for an act of bravery before the Demeter sets sail.
As for our villain (played in CGI-form by Javier Botet), it’s kind of strange that he’s in the background for much of this film, but his role plays out like that of Jaws: used sparingly to begin with to ramp up the tension, before all hell breaks loose. It’s a useful tool in the screenplay’s arsenal, and one that means the suspense and scares deliver some impact. You won’t be hiding behind the sofa by any stretch of the way, but it’s another good example of how the movie performs within the limited confines it has.
However, as this is only based on the chapter, there is room for creative licence. Some of the ensuing two-hour running time is a tad predictable despite this, but there’s only so far you can take things at times when there’s zero change of scenery. The acting and direction are more than capable of keeping a tight ship if you’ll pardon the pun, and the constant changes in mood and energy are testament to this.
The big but is that whilst we’re watching something that’s every inch a gothic horror, the scare factor never quite grabs you by the throat or gets your heart pumping like it should. This is where next level filmmaking in every department truly comes into play; or was it simply overambitious to be using one section of the story for inspiration?
On that critical note, let’s end with some good news. The Last Voyage of the Demeter will finally see the light of day here in Britain before the year’s out – surely Halloween would be a good bet.