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Dracula prequel “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” has some bite

The Last Voyage of the Demeter

Starring Corey Hawkins, Aisling Franciosi, David Dastmalchian, Javier Botet, Liam Cunningham and Woody Norman. Written by Bragi F. Schut Jr. and Zak Olkewicz. Directed by André Øvredal. Opened August 11, 2023 at Toronto theatres. 118 minutes. 14A

⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 4)

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

“The Last Voyage of the Demeter” isn’t your father’s Count Dracula story or even your grandfather’s, the type where the vampire is a suavely sinister Eastern European gentleman who likes to drink blood.

The monster of this creepily effective origin story is instead a yellow-eyed, bat-winged, fang-toothed demon that resembles a cross between Gollum, Nosferatu and a humanoid dragon as it evolves and ravages the crew of the title ship.

Main screenwriter Bragi Schut (“Escape Room”) and director André Øvredal (“Trollhunter,” “The Autopsy of Jane Doe”) wanted to tell a monster-on-the-loose tale similar to “Alien,” but set on a ship.

They found their inspiration in “The Captain’s Log,” a short chapter from Bram Stoker’s classic 1897 novel “Dracula” that tells how the bloody count arrived in London from his home in Transylvania.

They’ve taken the skeletal narrative and added much flesh to it, all the better for Dracula to feed on, which is entirely in keeping with the bloodthirsty appetites of modern horror fans.

Corey Hawkins, who played Dr. Dre in “Straight Outta Compton,” makes a noble and energetic lead as Dr. Clemens, a Cambridge-educated doctor who joins the motley crew of Captain Eliot (Liam Cunningham, “Game of Thrones”) aboard the Russian merchant schooner Demeter (rhymes with “eater”). The ship has been chartered to transport dozens of large crates from Romania to London, reason unknown — although not for long.

Dr. Clemens represents the scientific and skeptical mind, Eliot the practical and God-fearing seaman. The rest of the Demeter crew and passengers — including an unwitting female stowaway, Anna, played by Aisling Franciosi — are varying degrees of superstitious and suspicious.

They must unite to fight Dracula, played with ferocious intensity by Spanish actor Javier Botet. The beast starts to pick them off, one by one, in what you could call a “bat and mouse” game.

And you could call this an above-average horror film, one not afraid to mix a few elemental jump scares in with its carefully calibrated look, sound and mood. 🌓

(Originally published in the Toronto Star.)


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