“The Captain’s Log” from Bram Stoker’s novel DRACULA has long been heralded among the most terrifying chapters in literature. Documenting the overseas transport of The Count’s belongings (and, secretly, him) from his abode in Romania to his new digs at Carfax Abbey, London, it’s effectively frightening to this day, instilling a sense of dread and hopelessness as the crew of the doomed vessel begin to realize their fate. For the last twenty years, an ambitious screenplay based on the passage has been kicking around Hollywood, repeatedly changing hands and driving fans of the source novel as crazy as R.M. Renfield in anticipation.

Now, finally, the film has been brought to the screen, and while it is genuinely beautiful to look at, that’s about all it has going for it. Written by Bragi F. Schut and Zak Olkewicz (with a credit to Mr. Stoker) and directed by André Øvredal (THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE, SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK), the film succeeds in maintaining a gothic maritime setting filled with dark corners and dripping with hopelessness. However, the pacing moves too quickly at first and too slowly halfway through, and while the film is morbidly beautiful, the cinematography by Roman Osin and Tom Stern is distracting. The camera lives in gliding and panning shots, seldom settling into the stillness necessary to build any scrap of tension.

Unfortunately, the film lacks said tension almost entirely. Øvredal dared to make the comment, “[It’s] basically ALIEN set on a ship in 1897.” A bold statement for a film whose trailer gratuitously revealed the monster from head to toe, wings and all, leaving nary a pointed bat ear to the imagination (the trailer also featured a slowed-down rendition of The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” interspersed with percussionary gunshots and sound effects from the film – can we please stop making the same trailer over and over again?). Anyway, ALIEN, DEMETER is not. That masterful film made the wise choice to keep its creature hidden until nearly the film’s finale. The scares in that movie are earned and effective. DEMETER showed us its Dracula before we even got to the movie theater, and relies on the same lazy attempt at a jump scare every time he appears. (Character is walking. Character stops walking. Music stops. Character looks around. Dracula is behind them.) Not a single “scare” in this film is earned.

This is a true shame because the performances here are quite good. Corey Hawkins (IN THE HEIGHTS) plays a terrific hero, Clemens, a doctor – the first black man to graduate Cambridge – aboard the Demeter who refuses to accept the ways of the world. A stowaway, Anna, played by Aisling Franciosi (GAME OF THRONES), carries sadness and determination with gripping finesse, and Liam Cunningham (also GAME OF THRONES) brings a heart-wrenching determination to the role of Captain Eliot. (He also narrates the film via direct passages from the captain’s log in his beautiful, Shakespearean baritone.) A special mention also goes to Stefan Kapicic (DEADPOOL), who showcases a fun, shocking arc with a somehow simultaneously soothing and menacing Romani dialect.

Effects in the film are hit-or-miss. It’s being lauded for its use of practical effects, but it’s the amplification of said effects with CGI that takes away from the hard work of the artists behind them. The addition of CGI blood or fire has never and will never look convincing. It’s distracting. The creature design is effective, if not a little too, Count Orlockian, but nothing we haven’t seen before. All in all, the movie looks like a really compelling video game.

Being based on a single chapter (with a few details from surrounding bits of the source text), the screenplay was bound to take artistic liberties to flesh out the story. Anyone who has read the book or seen a screen adaptation already knows how it ends. However, of said liberties, none are so unforgivable as the confounding and careless ending. The film’s final 45 seconds are eye-roll inducing and enough to infuriate movie-goers weary from the film’s two-hour runtime. Despite a couple of bold swings and a surprisingly (and refreshingly) mean-spirited tone, it’s the kind of movie that clearly started out with good intentions but was diluted with too many studio demands and a lack of understanding from higher-ups of the source material.

While the character Mina Murray naively remarks in the novel, “I suppose one ought to pity anything so hunted as the Count,” I’d rather save my pity for the audience.

THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER is currently playing in movie theaters.

Ricky J Duarte

[He/him/his] Ricky is a writer, actor, and singer. He's also the host of Rick or Treat Horrorcast, a biweekly horror movie podcast. He lives in a super haunted apartment in New York City above a giant, spooky cemetery with his evil cat, Renfield, and the ghosts of reasons he moved to New York in the first place. www.RickOrTreat.com

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