This is a review of the film The Last Voyage of the Demeter. Spoilers ahead!

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.


For fans of classic vampire films, there’s nothing quite as powerful as an unstoppable monster like Count Dracula. We watch films dedicated to his sensual need for power or his thirst for blood. Dracula often reminds audiences of their humanity, a subject that many new films and shows dedicate their time to. The vampire genre has changed drastically of late, with shows like What We Do in the Shadows and movies like Renfield. Vampire films appear to be swinging hard in the direction of hope, rather than tragedy.

While this new take on vampires has opened up new possibilities in the genre, the most recent entry, which hit theaters this month, carries with it a return to the uncanny tragedy of monster films. The Last Voyage Of The Demeter is, unquestionably, a tragic tale of mortality fit for a ‘post’ COVID world.

Setting: The Last Voyage of the Demeter in Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Dracula in The Last Voyage of the Demeter

On the Demeter, our monster closely resembles Nosferatu, and has taken a hard turn from humanoid to beast. In many ways, this film, adapted from the captain’s log of Bram Stoker’s original Dracula novel, appears more as a zombie movie than a vampire film. There’s no uncanny valley where Dracula passes himself off as human. He is simply a beast, an infection — and a scourge on the Demeter.

For those unfamiliar with the original novel, the story of the film covers, from beginning to end, the voyage of the Demeter from Romania to London. The crew has been hired to carry cargo, which consists of numerous wooden boxes filled to the brim with dirt. One of the boxes bears the mark of a black dragon, which many of the local townspeople in Romania seem to fear.

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Plot: A Plague Spreads Across the Demeter

Clemens from The Last Voyage of the Demeter

The ship is also carrying livestock for the long voyage; and if you are at all familiar with the term “plague rats”, you’ll know that this most likely poses some health risks for the crew. The crew — consisting of the Captain, his first mate, the captain’s son, an educated doctor named Clemens, and six other crew hands — sets off into the open ocean, unaware that what they have brought on board views them as a resource, not just transportation.

One by one, the animals on the ship are massacred and drained entirely of their blood, followed by the crew’s faithful dog being ripped apart — and then the crew themselves begin to disappear. Clemens seeks (perhaps obsessively) a logical, scientific explanation behind the deaths. When the animals first begin to die, he suggests rabies as the cause. When crew wind up missing and dead, he blames an infection. When the missing crew members return as undead, their zombie-like state is treated like an illness.

Themes

Real-World Parallels of Fictional Dangers

Anna from The Last Voyage of the Demeter

In the industrialized and liberalizing England of 1897, the Transylvanian aristocrat Count Dracula reflected contemporary British concerns around shifts in class power and Eastern Europe’s ‘backwardness’. Today, audiences are viewing this film three years after the outbreak of COVID. Many classic monsters — Count Dracula is no exception — can be easily related to disease. Like diseases, monsters can’t be reasoned with or changed, and they ravage their prey without remorse.

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Dracula feeds on blood, just as a pathogen flows through it and thrives on it. He often leaves the body of his food to recover so he can ration them, turning survival into a horror of its own. The woman he brings onboard is a wonderful example of this: Anna receives blood transfusions from Clemens early in the movie, and is expected to recover before the end of the film. Even with his help, this “cure” only delays the inevitable; we watch as the crew, including the Captain’s son, are picked off without remorse and cursed to forever be Dracula’s undead. No man, woman, or child can escape the tireless march of this death — even the ones of us who technically survive.

Hope After the Last Voyage of the Demeter

Sun rising on the Demeter

But while The Last Voyage of the Demeter swings closer to the traditional tragedy of vampire tales, it’s not without hope. In the 1800s and beyond, burning bodies to stop the spread of infection was common. It seems fitting that a vampire would have a similar weakness. Fire and light purge the infected and release them from Dracula’s control. The film’s last image, of Anna floating into the sunrise on a cross and burning to death, allows the last infected member of the crew to pass.

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At the end of the day, illness can be frightening. We have watched most of our world change in the past three years, and it is very likely the directors of this movie felt similarly. Their choices made this movie more impactful to us because, like Clemens, we have all fought to see a better future — or even just, to survive long enough to see any future. This movie gave a voice to the crew and to a moment in vampire lore that needed to be told.

But for veterans of the vampire genre, who know the original story that began it all, we know that the Demeter is just a stop on the voyage. The story isn’t over — but for us, that means that this tale of tragedy also carries some hope: just as Anna and the Demeter’s crew are able to escape Dracula’s undead curse and find some peace, our future, post-COVID or not, isn’t set in stone.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter is available to purchase digitally now.

THE GOOD
Story
Antagonist
Camera Work
Acting
Imagery
THE BAD
You need some knowledge of other vampire works to understand all of it
8.5
Great

Review Summary

One of the most influential takes on one of the least discussed parts of Dracula lore.

Strangely Awesome Games Staff
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