The film was directed by André Øvredal, whose previous credits include such intriguing horror-related efforts as “Trollhunter,” “The Autopsy of Jane Doe,” and the underrated “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.” This time, he is trying to figure out how to tell a story in which everyone in the audience will be ahead of the characters on the screen at virtually every given point. He accomplishes that primarily by focusing heavily on visual style, creating a moody and haunted atmosphere throughout—even during the scenes set in the daytime—that is both eerily beautiful and just plain eerie. “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” is one of the better-looking horror films to come along in a while. The cat-and-mouse games between Dracula and the crew are staged in a manner that suggests a seafaring variation of “Alien,” with Øvredal milking scenes for maximum tension before culminating in some nasty business.
Bear in mind, some of that business is indeed quite nasty—the visualization of Dracula shown here is a particularly grotesque and demonic variation, the scenes of slaughter are definitely gory enough to earn the “R” rating, and not only does the one character you are conditioned to expect to somehow avoid a gruesome demise end up suffering just that, but they also do so more than once. The performances, especially the ones from genre MVP Dastmalchian, Franciosi (so effective in “The Nightingale”), and Botet, are all strong and convincing, which helps to raise the emotional stakes to make up for the lack of surprise.
There are two points where the film stumbles a bit. Although the relatively slow and measured pacing employed by Øvredal to generate suspense is mostly effective and preferable to the quick-cut approach others might have taken, a few scenes here run on too long for their own good. Also, the film—Spoiler Alert!—indulges in one of the most irritating elements of contemporary horror cinema, a final scene that exists solely to set up future movies if this one does well at the box office.
And yet, the rest of the movie works enough so that these flaws don’t hurt things too badly. “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” may not be a classic in the annals of Dracula cinema along the lines of the Terence Fisher’s Hammer production “Horror of Dracula,” Werner Herzog’s version of “Nosferatu the Vampyre,” or Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram’s Stoker’s Dracula.” But it is a smart, well-made, and sometimes downright creepy take on the tale that both horror buffs and regular moviegoers can appreciate in equal measure.
In theaters now.