As far as “hooks” go when pitching a horror script, you can’t go wrong finding a way to dump several characters in a single location, introduce some nefarious threat that they’re physically unable to escape from, and keep finding interesting ways to drive up the tension and fully exploit the scare factor. Aside from the obvious drama inherent in such a premise, the best part of this approach is that it allows different filmmakers to put their own unique spin on this time-honored setup. “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” benefits from the ready-made potential of Bram Stoker’s original “Dracula” novel, which featured a short chapter chronicling Dracula’s journey to Europe aboard a ship. Taking that basic foundation and running with it, André Øvredal filled in the gaps and mixed the epic, sweeping tone of “Master & Commander” with the sense of dread and rising tension from “The Thing,” and the atmospheric doom hanging heavy over “Alien.”
While relatively restrained, small-scale movies like “Demeter” feel like more of an outlier with each passing year, recent history gives us a number of examples that further confirmed the appeal of these one-location horror flicks. Dan Trachtenberg’s “10 Cloverfield Lane” might be the epitome of this subgenre, wringing every possible ounce of conflict and stakes out of a doomsday bunker that may or may not be protecting the three characters inside from an apocalypse. Jordan Peele took this even further with “Get Out,” trapping its protagonist in the worst place imaginable: An affluent white family’s home. Hell, the entire history of haunted house stories intuitively understands why audiences keep getting drawn back to this setup.
“Demeter” injected new life (in a manner of speaking) into one of the best weapons in the horror toolbox. It should only be the start.