A new film based on a little-known chapter of the Dracula saga proves to be monstrously boring. André Øvredal’s moribund nautical vampire tale The Last Voyage of the Demeter (D+) rarely sets sail into either creative or scary waters as the undead bloodsucker lurks and lunges in equal doses from the cargo hold of a nondescript merchant vessel traveling from Romania to England. The film’s mundane production values, self-conscious narration, cheap-looking creature effects and general lack of specificity about the shipboard whereabouts of this shape-shifting Lil’ Nos(feratu) X mark another low point in Universal’s “revisals” of classic monster pics. The mystery of why Vladdie can’t simply dispatch of the puny crew of imbeciles makes the dramatic dance even more of a transoceanic trance. Only Corey Hawkins as the protagonist, a shipboard MD caring for an unwitting stowaway (Aisling Franciosi) in need of transfusions, demonstrates any discernible pulse in the acting department. There are traces of race politics here, but the characters are too uninteresting to properly embody their arcs. Any teased promise of allegory is more bark than bite. The missed opportunities are countless. Typically pacing in a supernatural thriller is slow for a while to stoke the tension, but this adventure just gets more glacial: a captain’s slog to be sure! Only the film’s ability to elicit unintentional laughs in the final reel provides much of a jump scare surprise.
Ari Aster’s suspense drama Hereditary (B+) is a stunner, upending many expectations of typical horror movies for something even more raw: delving into the experience of losing loved ones, exploring compartmentalization of pain and unearthing abnormalities lurking in one’s family tree. The film deserves comparisons with The Shining and The Exorcist and showcases a master performance by Toni Collette as the troubled mother of two (Milly Shapiro and Alex Wolff, really effective). Gabriel Byrne is ho-hum as the family dad (someone needed to be the straight man, I suppose), and Ann Dowd is superb as a neighbor in grief. The film is a slow-burn downer of the first order but splendidly cinematic, and it builds to quite a crescendo. The production values, from art direction to music, build a brooding mood. The film relies heavily on Collette to sell some far-fetched sequences of spiritualism and to take her character way out on a limb. She delivers in spades. From the first moments set in miniature dollhouses to an epic denouement, the film gets bigger in its ambitions. Fans of the original Friday the 13th may even find echoes in its origin story. This is recommended for aficionados of great drama, and I hope horror fans will like it too.