When Dracula plays peekaboo, things can get unpleasant.
That’s the case in “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” (R, 118 minutes, in theaters), based on a chapter in Bram Stoker’s original “Dracula.”
It’s 1897, and the merchant ship Demeter is sailing from Bulgaria to England. Unknown to its captain and crew, the cargo includes everybody’s favorite bloodsucker, who sneaks out of his cargo box at night to pop out of the darkness – “Peekaboo!” – and make a bloody mess of his victims.
This isn’t the suave, human-looking Count Dracula played by Bela Lugosi, Frank Langella and others – you know, the guy whose handiwork usually involves overenthusiastic hickeys. This Dracula (Javier Botet) looks like the Nosferatu versions played by Max Schreck and Klaus Kinski (you know, kind of like a penis, only with ears and fangs) and acts like the critter in “Alien.” In fact, Andre Ovredall, director of “Demeter,” and others have compared the film to “Alien” – the difference being this time the crew is trapped on a boat rather than a spacecraft.
You have a pretty good sense of what’s going to happen in “Demeter” before you enter the theater. If you have a boat with a “Vampire on Board” bumper sticker, there’s a good chance that one crew member after another is getting slaughtered, and it’s just a matter of watching it happen.
This doesn’t make for surprising, or, in this case, even suspenseful viewing.
Still, “Demeter” does give the “Dracula” saga a new spin by tackling racism and other themes.
The protagonist, Clemens (Corey Hawkins), a Black doctor hired by the ship’s captain (Liam Cunningham) at the last minute, faces discrimination from many of the crew and says he hasn’t been able to land a post as a doctor because of his race. When Clemens says he struggles to understand life – and no wonder – it’s suggested to him that life is to be experienced and accepted, rather than understood. Perhaps the film’s message is that it’s hard to understand why evil exists – whether in the form of Dracula or racism – but the important thing is to learn how to deal with it.
Hawkins (Dr. Dre in “Straight Outta Compton”) and Cunningham (Davos Seaworth in “Game of Thrones”) give solid performances, and when Dracula takes flight, the visual and sound effects are genuinely chilling.
But for all that’s good here, it’s not enough to allow this Dracula to rise from the routine. **½ (out of four)
Stuck in the middle with ‘Meg’
“Meg 2: the Trench” (PG-13, 116 minutes, in theaters) is like two movies in one, and both are pretty bad. It starts as a dull underwater thriller about a criminal mining operation before turning into a full-out, ridiculous action film/monster movie.
Jason Statham returns in this sequel (the “2” in “Meg 2” is the tip-off) as rescue diver extraordinaire Jonas Taylor, who risks death again and again while battling villainous humans and prehistoric creatures – including gigantic, prehistoric sharks known as Megalodons, or Megs.
The details of the plot are really unnecessary to go over here; despite the convoluted intrigue involved, “Meg 2,” like the first “Meg,” is really all about watching people getting gulped down by giant sea critters. In this regard, “Meg 2” delivers in a half-hearted, PG-13 way (which, given the bloody alternative, might be a good thing). The story leads to a grand finale at a resort – called Fun Island! – where Jonas performs ludicrous stunts on a jet ski.
By this point, director Ben Wheatley (“Free Fire,” “High-Rise”) has dropped all pretense of making a serious film, and that’s probably for the best. But just as “Meg 2” fails to work as a serious, scary shark thriller like ‘Jaws,” it also lacks the camp appeal of “Sharknado.” Instead, it’s stranded at sea, somewhere in the middle, and even appealing tough guy Statham can’t save it. **
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.