Tag Archives: C-


Producers: Bradley J. Fischer, Mike Medavoy and Arnold Messer   Director: André Øvredal   Screenplay:  Bragi F. Schut, Jr. and Zak Olkewicz   Cast:  Corey Hawkins, Aisling Franciosi, Liam Cunningham, David Dastmalchian, Javier Botet, Woody Norman, Jon Jon Briones, Stefan Kapičić, Nikolai Nikolaeff, Chris Walley and Martin Furulund    Distributor: Universal

Grade: C-

This is certainly the year of Dracula for Universal.  Not long ago the studio released “Renfield,” with Nicolas Cage chewing the scenery—as well as plenty of human victims—as the Count in contemporary New Orleans, with Nicholas Hoult as his long-time servant.  Now we’re taken back in time to the 1897, and to Dracula’s arrival in England on a Russian ship, the Demeter—named after the Greek fertility goddess who presided over both the season of life (spring) and that of death (winter).  Bram Stoker knew his mythology.

Expanded from a brief portion of a chapter in Stoker’s classic novel, the entry called “The Captain’s Log,” the film tells how the ship became a vessel devoid of a crew by the time it reached English waters on a trip from Romania.  Its cargo, of course, included crates of Transylvanian earth and, unbeknownst to the captain, Count Dracula, who’d decided to relocate to the UK and fed on the crew during the voyage, leaving the Demeter unmanned by the time it reached shore.

“The Captain’s Log” consists of but a few paragraphs in Stoker, about how men began to mysteriously disappear until only a couple were  left, and so the screenwriters have been forced to pad it out to feature length.  They’ve added a long prologue about the boxes being transported to the dock and loaded aboard the ship (it’s in these opening scenes that Edward Thomas’ production design is at its most impressive, though the set of the Demeter isn’t too shabby, though the vessel certainly is).  It’s here that we meet Captain Eliot (Liam Cunningham) and his longtime first mate Wojchek (David Dastmalchian), characters in Stoker.

But also others who aren’t—particularly the captain’s adorable grandson Toby (Woody Norman) and stalwart Clemens (Corey Hawkins), who joins the crew after saving Toby from a falling crate though Wojchek had initially rejected him.  Clemens, we learn, holds a medical degree from Cambridge but could not find work in England because of his black skin, and found the Romanian court equally unwelcoming; his ostracism allows Hawkins to make some speeches that sound decidedly modern in their denunciation of racism.  But Eliot, thankful for the doctor’s rescue of Toby, takes him on despite his first mate’s misgivings.

There’s also, of course, a collection of rough-and-ready sailors who serve as colorful characters as well as potential morsels for Dracula (Javier Botet, gussied up with prosthetics by Göran Lundström and VFX to resemble a cross between Max Schreck’s Nosferatu and Mothman): religion-obsessed cook Joseph (Jon Jon Briones), gruffly superstitious Petrofsky (Nikolai Nikolaeff), gloomily stern Larsen (Martin Furuland), genially callow Abrams (Chris Walley), hulking Olgarin (Stefan Kapičić).  And an unexpected voyager: Anna (Aisling Franciosi), a near-dead stowaway with a prior connection to Dracula whom Clemens restores to a semblance of health with blood transfusions.

Dracula starts by feasting on the ship’s livestock but moves on to the humans around the forty-minute mark, and the rest of the movie consists of him picking off folks one by one.  The screenwriters, director André Øvredal, cinematographer Tom Stern and editor Patrick Larsgaard strive to depict the attacks with some variety, but apart from the stalking of Toby (in which young Norman is called upon to go through the same motions of terror he did in the recent “Cobweb”) they all come across as much the same, especially after Dracula is shown in full and endowed by the effects team supervised by David Lingenfelder with powers of super-speed flight.  There is some visual punch when the corpses of victims spontaneously combust after being exposed to sunlight, but even this is overused, and the culminating confrontation between the vampire and the surviving crew, complete with raging storm waves, is rather messily staged.  Bear McCreary’s alternately spooky and thundering score is of little help; the repetitiveness extracts the tension from the stately-paced movie as surely as Dracula drains the blood from his victims.

The performances are committed, however tedious the movie becomes; Hawkins makes a stalwart hero and Franciosi an appropriately world-weary heroine, while Cunningham makes an understandably shaken captain and Dastmalchian a driven first-mate (though his accent is sometimes difficult to understand); all the crewmen convey their essentially one-note characters ably enough, with Briones, as the excitable cook, bound to be an audience favorite.  Norman may not be as ingratiating as he was in “C’Mon, C’Mon,” but he’s a reliably charming tyke, and you have to admire the filmmakers for treating Toby as roughly as they do; some viewers will probably be repelled by what happens to the kid.

In sum, one has to question whether it was wise to try expanding Stoker’s “Captain’s Log” into a feature-length horror movie.  “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” is a surprisingly handsome picture, but not an especially invigorating or frightening one.


Producers: Larry Greenberg, Lucas Jarach and Eric Brenner   Director: Neil LaBute   Screenplay: Neil LaBute   Cast: Maggie Q, Kat Foster, Travis Hammer, Gia Crovatin, Brenda Meaney, Ito Aghayere, Kirstin Leigh, Highdee Kuan, Keilyn Durrel Jones, Rosni Shukla, Ray Siegle, Philip Burke, Laith Wallschleger, James Carpinello, Ray Nicholson, Geoff Pierson, William Roth, Treisa Gary, Christopher Corbin and Jack Mikesell    Distributor: Quiver Distribution

Grade: C-

Since his first film “In the Company of Men” (1997) through his most recent ones, like last year’s “House of Darkness”—as well as in his plays—Neil LaBute’s theme has almost always been what he portrays as an eternal war between men and women; it’s no wonder that he’s often been called a misogynist.  But generally he’s dealt with the subject in ways that were provocative but clever, marked by cutting dialogue and theatrical panache. Never has he presented his dark vision of gender conflict so bluntly and brutally (at least in physical terms—elsewhere the psychological pain has been more piercing) than in this nasty tale.  Or so ineptly—“Fear the Night” is a mediocre home-invasion thriller, more revolting than frightening and sadly lacking in all the major categories–conception, writing, direction and acting.

The premise is absurdly simple.  A group of women congregate at an isolated ranch for a bachelorette party.  They’re attacked by a bunch of thuggish men who begin their assault by killing a few of them and then demanding entry, promising to let the survivors go if they don’t cause them trouble.  The women refuse and mount what defense they can under the leadership of an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD and in recovery for alcohol abuse, but with her fighting skills intact.  Mayhem ensues. 

LaBute has added details intended to flesh out this meager narrative.  The two sisters—vet Tess (Maggie Q) and censorius Beth (Kat Foster)—who are throwing the party at their parents’ desert house for their sibling Rose (Highdee Kuan) are estranged and constantly bickering.  And the men aren’t there without cause. Though their leader Perry (Travis Hammer) was humiliated by Tess during an encounter at a store on the way to the reach, the goal isn’t mere revenge: they’re searching for a stash of money they believe is hidden in the house, the profits from a drug lab two equally sleazy fellows have been running nearby.  And they think that the women know where the cash is.

Until a coda with a clueless sheriff (Geoff Pierson) and a sharp lawyer (Treisa Gary) that serves to reinforce basic the theme of men versus women, as if that were necessary, “Fear the Night” follows the cat-and-mouse struggle between Perry (who for some reason favors a bow-and-arrow, with which he kills a few of the party, including Rose and the male chef/stripper, Rosni Shukla, Beth had hired) and Tess, who returns to battle mode and reciprocates as she tries to figure out a way to get a message to the authorities (naturally, the cell phones are out of service range) and secure some weapons from a shed out back.  As a result of all the maneuvering, a few more people die on both sides, the women are threatened with rape and death, and Tess ultimately confronts Perry one-on-one in a final confrontation.

LaBute indulges in some pretty revolting sexual taunting and gory killings, but the most notable aspect of the picture is the utter stupidity of Perry and his redneck band, whose growling menace is matched only by their ineptitude and inclination to fall for the women’s seductive traps.  One might also take it as a sign of progress that the only black member of the party (Ito Aghayere) is not the first victim, though honestly the cliché was already antique when “The Blackening” employed it as a plot device.  

Still, the movie might have worked as a rote shocker were LaBute’s dialogue more biting and the performances better.  Maggie Q certainly manages the considerable physical demands of her part, but her line delivery is flat.  She’s positively sterling, though, beside Foster, whose petulance comes across as shrill, and Hammer, whose attempts to be frightening fail miserably.  Many of the others seem stiff and amateurish, but probably shouldn’t be blamed overmuch, since LaBute’s clumsy direction does them no favors.  None of the behind-the-camera contributions—Megan Elizabeth Bell’s production design, Rogier Stoffers’ cinematography, Vincent E. Welch’s editing, Adam Bosarge’s music score—is good enough to elevate things beyond mediocrity.  And the decision to use intertitles to chart the passage of time through the night dissipates the buildup of tension rather than enhancing it; there are so many of them that you begin to wonder whether they’re just a means of expanding things to feature length.

Neil LaBute has done some stunning work in the past.  But his recent films, including this one, have been, even at their best, disappointing; and it’s certainly true that his observations about the gender wars have grown rather repetitive.