Dracula: Voyage of the Demeter
Released: August 10, 2023
Director: André Øvredal
Starring: Corey Hawkins, David Dastmalchian, Aisling Franciosi, Liam Cunningham
The motherfucking bad boy of blood-sucking is back and this time he’s going to scare the ship out of you. That’s right, it’s Dracula and he’s on a boat! Dracula has been an icon of horror ever since Bram Stoker penned the eponymous novel way back in 1897. The big guy is no stranger to the big screen. They’ve been making Dracula adaptations almost as long as they’ve been making movies, starting with 1922’s Nosferatu by F.W. Murnau. Some, like Francis Ford Coppola‘s adaption in ‘92, are absolute classics, others, like Patrick Lussier’s Dracula 2000 are less good, but still exist. Dracula: Voyage of the Demeter may not be in the same league as the former but it’s still a lot of fun and like all good films, it knows exactly what it’s about and leans right into it.
Considering they’ve been making movies about Dracula for more than 100 years it’s not always easy to explore new territory but where Dracula: Voyage of the Demeter succeeds is that it draws upon the natural claustrophobia of its setting. There’s no escape from a ship in the open ocean. You’re all alone in one of the most hostile environments imaginable. It’s the same sense of isolation that films like Alien exploit so well. I love the ocean but I know it’s a cruel mistress. It cares not if you live or die. It’s a literal force of nature it is both life and death incarceration. The sense of dread and foreboding of the ocean that surrounds our crew is exceeded only by Dracula himself.
For the uninitiated, the story is pretty straightforward. The crew of the Demeter has been tasked with transporting 50 mysterious crates from Transylvania to London. On this voyage is Clemens (Corey Hawkins) a well-educated doctor, Wojchek (David Dastmalchian) the first mate, Anna (Aisling Franciosi) a stowaway, Captain Elliot (Liam Cunningham) and his grandson Toby, and a few other experienced sailors. Unfortunately for them, one of the crates contains Dracula, and being the dick that he is, he plans to eat the crew as they make their way across the ocean on their 4-week journey. So all in all it’s only slightly worse than your average cruise ship. But not by much.
This may not be the best Dracula adaptation ever made but it’s got all the good shit we want. People getting their throats ripped out, gallons of blood, and jump scares. It’s fucking awesome. What more can you ask for? There isn’t really much of an underlying message – Dracula isn’t a metaphor for capitalism or anything like that (…or is he?). You could argue that the journey to crew takes from realising there’s a problem to understanding that they’re completely fucked is a sort of parable of 5 stages of grief but I don’t think Kübler-Ross had accounted for Dracula when she wrote that stuff. This is just your normal story about a hungry boi on a big adventure across the ocean.
Production wise the film looks pretty great. Not every visual works but everything is well crafted and the camera work really makes the most of the unique architecture of the ship and the interesting contrast of light it creates. The bigger scale stuff occasionally looks a little more ‘made for TV’ than cinematic, but it’s a minor gripe and when it does work it looks fantastic. The creature effects are also pretty great, Drac looks nasty as hell and a hefty reliance on practical, in-camera effects gives him an animal-like realness that’s equal parts disconcerting and cool.
Hawkins carries a lot of the weight of the film as our point of view character. While most of the crew stands around being gruff and grim he does a lot of the serious detective work around the boat. Cunningham is in full Davos Seaworth (Game of Thrones) mode as the stoic Captain Elliot and works wonderfully as the backbone and leader of this crew. But the real standout here is David Dastmalchian, who is really having something of a moment coming off of some incredible work in 2021’s The Suicide Squad and another solid performance in Oppenheimer just last month. His character, Wojchek is a complex man – dutiful and loyal as first mate but also hardened and uncompromising. He has a mean streak but he’s a decent man and certainly no fool. Dastmalchian not only finds the inherent meanness Wojchek needs to survive in a world like this but also the humanity that makes him feel like a real person. He isn’t fearless but he’s a badass in the face of fear, and that rules. I don’t know if Dastmalchian is destined to become one of the greats or just of those actors who elevates everything they’re in while you’re shouting ‘Oh it’s that guy’ at the screen but one thing I know for sure is that the man is the real deal.
Dracula: Voyage of the Demeter is a blast – the kind of creature feature they rarely make anymore. It’s bloody, it’s mean, and it’s a fun reminder that you’re not always at the top of the food chain. This is a perfect popcorn movie, so grab a big box and sink your teeth in
Film review by Dave Mullins
Dracula: Voyage of the Demeter is now showing in cinemas across Australia.
Grab your tickets online via StudioCanal.