Starring: Corey Hawkins, Aisling Franciosi, Liam Cunningham, David Dastmalchian
Runtime: 118 mins. Reviewed in Aug 2023
Reviewer: Fr Peter Malone msc
Bram Stoker’s Dracula leaves Transylvania and travels by sea to England, wreaking havoc on the ship.
The voyage is from the Carpathian mountains and a port in Bulgaria through the Aegean Sea and Mediterranean to London. And the cargo includes a huge chest and, inside, Dracula, resting during the day, appearing at night, thirsting for blood. This new Dracula film is based on Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, specifically the chapter, “The Captains Log”.
Vampires have been in cinema consciousness for more than 100 years, the German Nosferatu in 1922 with its similar story to Dracula. Bela Lugosi was Dracula in the early 1930s and there has been a succession of actors taking on the role, including Christopher Lee, and Gary Oldman in Francis Ford Coppola’s classic Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This time Dracula is more of a monster creature, a gargoyle, skeletal, with webbed wings rather than any human appearance. Which means that there is nothing to make Dracula a sympathetic character here. Rather, he is evil, diabolical.
One of the great advantages of this story is the reconstruction of the sailing ship, the Demeter. There is the vast hold storing the cargo, the high masts and sails, the slippery deck and steering wheel. The audience can vividly relive the experience of the hardships and dangers of 19th-century sailing, the winds and storms, the perils of the sea.
The central character here is Dr Clemens (Hawkins). He is a medical graduate of Cambridge, unable to find a position in England, is at a port trying to become a ship’s doctor. The prejudice is because he’s Black. He is well spoken, skilled, something of a philosopher-scientist puzzling about the meaning of life, puzzling about the presence of evil, his scientific background questioning the possibility of Dracula’s horror with its supernatural overtones. The crew is small, led by the sympathetic Captain Eliott (Cunningham). Soon into the voyage, they discover the young woman, Aisling Franciosi (so strong in the Australian film The Nightingale), drained of blood, needing continual transfusions, ultimately revealing that she comes from Dracula’s village and tells his story of power for centuries.
This is a film of atmosphere, drawing us in with its drama, increasing foreboding, atmosphere of fear, then the grim revelations, crew disappearing, members of the crew mutilated, all the livestock drained of blood . . . The captain’s grandson, Toby, who Dr Clemens had saved when the Dracula chest was about to fall on him, blames himself for the death of the livestock that he cared for, becomes the target of Dracula’s thirst for blood. No sentimentality about children in this story.
The film draws on traditional aspects of vampires, sleeping during the day, roaming and terrorising for blood each night, merciless. There are religious emblems, but no stake through the heart. And there are some terrifying moments as Dracula’s victims are exposed to sunlight and become ablaze.
This is a serious Dracula story, an appeal to audiences response to the drama rather than just simply your average horror story.
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