Damsel Review

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“There is a lot of chivalric tales where the knight in shining armor rescues a woman in distress but not this” assures Princess Elodie (Millie Bobby Brown) at the beginning of Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s laborious dark fantasy movie Damsel. All the same, tryhard and lifted from better female-led films are somber medieval tedium with which it begins.

To save her father’s cold and desolate land that he ruled with an iron fist, princess Elodie must be married off to a prince from Aurea, a far away land whose name itself means “golden.” We’ll be suspicious about this for good reason; first though, this mountainous island kingdom is rendered by CGI that makes it look egregiously cheap: as clocked by his wife, Lady Bayford (Angela Bassett), after a chat with Queen Isabelle of Aurea (Robin Wright), Lord Bayford (Ray Winstone) changes as an individual. Elodie may have no reason to distrust her betrothed, Prince Henry (Nick Robinson), but when royal subjects in Eyes Wide Shut-style masks gather to watch the bride and groom mingle their blood in a post-wedding ceremony, the audience will be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for it does not last long because she plunges into one- huge cavernous dragon’s lair – wherein he dwelt much before humans.

The film is really boring for its first half hour. The cast plays everything as if they were acting documentary dramas; Robinson especially has too modern and emo vibes all at once. Out of all those who act here only Wright seems to get it right about what she’s doing on screen and manages to draw out an intoxicatingly naughty side of hers. Then we move on to pure adventure and things get exciting again — although one should note that Fresnadillo also doesn’t really know how to shoot dark scenes. (Some beautiful scenes illuminated by blue glow worms provide a saving grace.) Shohreh Aghdashloo’s voice acting is another one of those highlights, with the dragon purring taunts at Elodie using a devious lilt. But for some reason, the quality of the visual effects is far from perfect: The CGI work on her character somehow looks worse than it did in Reign of Fire that was released in 2002.

The rest of this section is marred by Brown’s performance that changes from monotonous eloquence to seemingly endless cycles of screaming and grunting. She also has to put up with a tacky costuming decision: as Elodie makes her escape using tools made out of her ornamental wedding outfit, the dress becomes increasingly revealing. That slow stripping away of countless layers seems too heavy-handed after all: this is literally Elodie shedding off all those oppressive symbols associated with her horrible royal family as well as the female gender in general. However, rather than being an empowered symbol, Brown eventually looks like she’s doing discount versions of Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C..

There is a reveal of some kind of truth about the wrath of the dragon, an indication that Damsel could have something fascinating to say about how colonizers keep control over stolen land using violent means. (After all she was on Aurea first.) But this is only hinted at not realized. The same goes for any feminist flipping around many tales of chivalry alluded in its opening paragraph. Like trying to make a point about cultural diversity by letting princesses from diverse parts of the world and ethnic backgrounds be devoured by a dragon; it sounds hollow – such are cliché phrases that mean nothing but empty words from a dull movie with no direction and story line.


Terrible acting and a weak screenplay plague Netflix’s fantasy movie Damsel making it sluggish and destroying its aspiration to become a non-conformist take on traditional adventure stories. There’s nothing magical or awesome about terrible CGI and monotonous action scenes. This damsel might save herself, but who’ll save audiences from Damsel?

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