Directed By Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

Starring – Millie Bobby Brown, Ray Winstone, Angela Bassett

The Plot – Elodie (Brown) thinks she is being married to a perfect prince (Nick Robinson), but is thrown into a pit where she discovers she’s not going to be a princess after all, but a sacrifice to appease a bloodthirsty dragon. Trying to survive long enough until someone can save her, she soon realizes that no one is coming and this “damsel” must save herself.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong creature violence, action, and bloody images.

Damsel | Official Trailer | Netflix (youtube.com)


While nothing refreshingly original or unique to the concept, “Damsel” does market its appeal by subverting conventionalism among the damsel in distress trope, which the title of the movie hints at ironically. Instead of an honorable prince fighting for the honor of his devastated bride, it’s she who is thrust quite literally into the pit of despair, in order to fight for her own life and honor, leading to an evolutionary arc that female moviegoers can adore and appreciate, without any of the male-bashing subtext in social commentary that plagues most of these films towards being confrontational, instead of uniting. Because Brown’s character finds herself fighting alone against a dragon, Fresnadillo makes the consciencious decision to steer this into a survival story territory, with an isolation factor and overhanging dread plaguing our protagonist’s quest to light and freedom, while battling with the unknowing elements of this mystical cavern that goes bump in the night. As a result, Fresnadillo really loses himself in the atmospheric elements of the environment, pushing the limits of his PG-13 rating, between gruesome imagery and intense violence, which adds an appeasing aspect of edginess to the proceedings, which counterbalances the abundance of riches that are realized in the primary setting during the film’s opening act. While the artificial effects work are inconsistent at best, the dragon does look surprisingly believable in this dark and murky underground cavern that’s housing her, with immensity and ferocity in design further pushing the tension and urgency factors towards many intense action set pieces, all with their own elements of claustrophobic panic to add to the aforementioned contributing factors. The production also exerts itself and as much of the budget as possible on the set designs and wardrobe choices, with each vividly attaining ambition and believability in the depths of a 17th century setting. This is especially surprising because rumors of the budgetary limitations have been everywhere since the movie was originally set to release back in October, and while it’s only required to flash these perks mostly during the opening act of the movie, as a majority of the rest of the film is between Millie and her dragon in the cave, Millie’s own gown constantly changes to reflect her own emotional and stoic transformation, resulting in money well spent for Netflix. Lastly, while without any kind of meaningful material to inspire the best out of them, the talents of the top tier ensemble give their all for their respective characters, especially Brown and Shohreh Aghdashloo, who share the most of the 103 minute run time. While it feels like nobody is truly sleeping through their roles, Brown brings a resiliency among physicality that makes her believable in the depths of her character’s drive, and with an equally beneficial element of imposing on-screen magnetism that has since felt perfected from her origins as Eleven on “Stranger Things”, proves that the transition into adult star has been attained seamlessly in her commitment in approach to everything she takes on. Aghdashloo’s vocal manipulation for the dragon is equally integral, enacting a menacing beastly allure to her deposits that add a psychological element to her already overwhelming imposing physical immensity, all to carve out an advantageous element to the conflict, which she exploits endlessly.


Though not quite as offensive as some of Netflix’s other cinematic offerings, “Damsel” nonetheless feels like another conveyor belt film, with a soulless execution that kept me from ever fully investing into the extent of the conflict. Part of the issues begin with the inconsistencies of the presentation itself, with hollow special effects work continuously taking us out of the immagination factors of the adorned period piece, in all of its 17th century imagery. Because most of this film was obviously shot in studio, instead of on location, we’re left with an overindulgence upon these artificial backdrops in wide angle photography that dominates artificiality, losing any kind of tangibles to the depths and believability of the landscapes, which should be the most important factor towards generating escapism among its fantastical production. While the aforementioned dragon is rendered as believably as possible for such a fantastical creature, even its incorporation in scenes away from the caves and caverns feel plagued elements of sweeping velocity or heft that should crumble the architecture it comes directly into contact with, and it all leads to a dependency upon imagination, but in the most compromising kind of ways to the quality and integrity of the picture. Beyond the spotty special effects work, the immense leaps in logic plague the initial set-up and various continuity throughout the film, which made it difficult to invest in the stakes or urgency of the narrative. As evidenced by the plot description and various marketing trailers, Elodie is thrown into the dragon’s pit during the initial opening act, leading to a brutal among hundreds of feet, sharp tree branches and an abrupt drop onto a rocky surface, to which she walks away with few scratches and no broken bones. Even for the fantasy genre, this is ridiculous to even consider, as a fall that fast and far would at the very least result in broken legs, but it’s certainly not the only moments of the film where I was left scratching my head, as a wound on Elodie’s leg goes from the right to the left, midway through the film, and the overall resolution of the film goes against everything that Elodie’s character previously stood for, as she takes her revenge not only to the royal family who betrayed her, but also the hundreds of innocent townsfolk who were guilty by association, I guess. Then there’s my issues with the storytelling itself, which not only feels too on-the-nose and shallow with its messaging, but also practically missing in action with compelling characterization that is meant to invest you completely into the characters. Aside from the supporting characters feeling forgettably one note and inconsequential to the proceedings, especially Bassett and Robinson, who are tragically wasted in their monumental miscastings, but also Brown’s Elodie, whose transformation isn’t as expansive as being conveyed to us. When we first meet Elodie, she’s every bit the hands-on provider that she was eventually destined to become, so the evolution isn’t as monumental or complex as it would be with a character change so dramatically, and it left me barely hanging on throughout pacing that almost immediately felt the strain of its structure. Because the film is so reliant upon Elodie’s conflict alone in the caves, the development outside of her is practically non-existent, so the change in attitude from her father to eventually pursue her, for instance, springs forth out of nowhere, instead of adding complexion to the storytelling in ways that could’ve naturally alleviated repetition and eventual boredom. Finally, the dialogue itself is the biggest offender throughout the engagement, with spoon-fed sentiments and exposition dumps meant to fill in the blanks for the aforementioned lack of committed characterization. The worst of these offenses is within Elodie herself, who when she’s not grunting and screaming for a majority of her dialogue, is given these internal sentiments while isolated to drive out, so we’re often left with her conveying to the audience what we’re already experiencing for ourselves in the visuals, and I just wish the film would’ve kept her quiet if this was the best they had for her, especially since it would add to the overwhelming despair of the loneliness of her conflict.

“Damsel” isn’t completely helpless, but it is in need of rescuing, as a result of tediously dull writing and thinly outlined characterization that underscores the dramatic and fantastical elements of its escapism. While Millie makes the most of her limitations, and the special effects are at least an improvement for a Netflix-helmed production, it’s nevertheless a conveyor belt film with nothing in the way of soul to spike its splendor, cementing another uninspired offering for the streaming giant that will quickly and easily be forgotten to make room for the next one.

My Grade: 5/10 or D+

One thought on “Damsel

  1. I did not have high hopes for this one, though may watch it anyways. There really needs to be some good sci-fi/fantasy genre movies coming out, it has been sorely lacking lately.thabk you for the review.

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