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‘The Last Voyage of the Demeter’ is pulpy fun

Universal Pictures

A movie I missed when it was released, but that’s now available through video-on-demand platforms just as it’s leaving theaters, is the Dracula prequel The Last Voyage of the Demeter. It tells the story of the crew who unwittingly bring the vampire to London aboard their ship, and who all get killed along the way.

This does sound like, yawn, another unnecessary origin-story-type horror movie, and that’s not entirely untrue. But also, you can sometimes spin straw into gold, and while this movie isn’t quite gold, it’s at least, I don’t know, really nice-looking straw.

I was sold on the whole thing when the opening text of the film describes the Demeter as arriving to the shore “derelict,” after which a character reads from the ship’s recovered captain’s log that begins, “This is a record… and a warning.” These are clear signs the movie knows exactly what it is, which is to say it’s going to lean hard into the pulp while still playing it all straight. It doesn’t take itself seriously, but it’s also never winking at us, which is a fine line to walk.

Director André Øvredal shoots with an energetic camera, especially early on—there’s movement and excitement even in the more mundane scenes as the crew is being assembled and preparing to embark. And despite the fact that most of the movie takes place at night, we can actually see what’s going on. In an age when a lot of movies look like sludge and seem to be doing their best to make sure we can’t see a thing, this one is lit well and with intention, and, lo and behold, this actually adds to the creepy atmosphere.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter does lose steam about two-thirds of the way through before limping to the end, and while it’s gruesome, a part of me wished it were even more so. But to take a movie that should have been entirely forgettable and turn it into something that even gets you a tiny bit excited about movies, well, we should all celebrate the small victories.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.