For a book written in 1897, Dracula has had an exceptionally long shelf life. As such, the story and especially the title character have made their way to screens both large and small for over 100 years now. Only a handful have made an indelible impact. Often the revisionism of the revisions just come across as so many extra footprints in territory so well-trod it’s a deep furrow. This year alone we already had Renfield which, Nicolas Cage aside, was maybe the worst in decades. However, I was oddly excited for The Last Voyage of the Demeter, a feature-length take on a single, rarely adapted section of Stoker’s novel. Sadly, good premise is almost all there is.

The bat-like silhouette of Dracula aboard the doomed ship in The Last Voyage of the Demeter.

I should hasten to add, it’s not like the movie is bad necessarily. It’s a supremely competent horror-thriller that’s definitely in the vein of studio monster movies that came before. Certain shots and moments are very effective. The decision to make Dracula more monster than man is a fun riff, and the setting certainly sets it apart. But it’s also just loads of plot without much story, characteristics rather than characters, and a pace better suited to action than horror. But without much action either. They make for a pleasant enough two hours without ever engaging much.

The premise is certainly the strongest part. We follow the events of the second major section of Dracula, which features the logs of the captain of the Demeter, a cargo ship making its way from Romania to London with private shipments bound for Carfax Abbey. The captain here, naturally on his personal last voyage before retirement, is Liam Cunningham, who is basically perfect for the character. His first mate is Mr. Wojchek (David Dastmalchian), who will inherit the ship when his mentor leaves. The new arrival is Clemens (Corey Hawkins), a trained physician whose skin color makes him unhireable as such. This is easily the most interesting aspect of any of the characters and it’s little more than backstory.

Other deckhands have names but exist mostly as vampire fodder later in the story. We also, for some reason, have the captain’s eight-year-old grandson Toby (Woody Norman), and a strange stowaway named Anna (Aisling Franciosi), sick with blood poisoning and riddled with bite marks. Wonder what happened to her. Naturally, the strange cargo turns out to be one of your Draculas (Javier Botet), whose makeup and vibe place him somewhere between the angel in Midnight Mass and Barlow from Salem’s Lot. Both, naturally, derive from F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu which is still the movie with the best adaptation of the Demeter story.

A horrifying screaming monster version of Dracula in The Last Voyage of the Demeter.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter by its very nature is something of a foregone conclusion. It’s right there in the title! The movie also never hides the fact that it’s adapting part of Dracula, so we pretty much know they won’t stop the threat. This isn’t a problem inherently; plenty of amazing movies come from tragedies we know will happen. Frigging Titanic, anyone? The trouble is, the movie seems to entirely rest on the novelty of this being a Dracula movie without any of the typical trappings of such. This is a creature, a bat-thing that can move faster than anyone on the ship. The most tense sequences involve Dracula in an enclosed space, lurking in the shadows. Once he’s outside, which happens very frequently, he’s a CGI swoop.

Like I said, it’s not as though there’s nothing to enjoy or praise here. Director André Øvredal (Trollhunter, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark) knows we want to see Dracula, so gives him plenty of big closeups. We also have a few legitimate surprises when it comes to the fate of some of those Dracula bites. Vampirism as plague is not a fresh idea, but it’s effective here. And I’ll say the siege on Toby when he’s locked in the Captain’s quarters is particularly well done. The problem is the movie seems to exist in spite of this artistry and not for it. The script is overwritten yet all-too spare. Characters talk about things we don’t get to see and speed through things on which they should linger.

If you want a mindless escape with a monster and some jump scares, The Last Voyage of the Demeter is plenty fine. If you wanted a truly fresh take on cinema’s most enduring creature of the night, keep looking.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter hits theaters August 11.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter

Kyle Anderson is the Senior Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Instagram and Letterboxd.

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