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‘Damsel’ movie review: Millie Bobby Brown’s fairytale misfire struggles to slay dragons and stereotypes

Millie Bobby Brown as Elodie in Netflix’s ‘Damsel’

Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and penned by Dan Mazeau, Millie Bobby Brown’s latest foray into life outside Stranger Things presents a dark fantasy world that promises a subversion of genre conventions; ultimately though, it only delivers a dragon-sized disappointment.

The auburn-haired Brown steps into the shoes of yet another Netflix heroine with a name beginning with ‘E’ (if you’re keeping score, that’s Eleven from Stranger Things and the eponymous Enola Holmes). This time, she’s Elodie, a noblewoman with a penchant for perilous predicaments.

Damsel (English)

Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

Cast: Millie Bobby Brown, Ray Winstone, Nick Robinson, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Angela Bassett, and Robin Wright. 

Storyline: A dutiful, sheltered young noblewoman agrees to marry a handsome prince, only to discover that his family intends to sacrifice her to repay an ancient debt

Runtime: 108 minutes

Elodie discovers that her impending marriage to a prince is a ploy orchestrated by his royal family to fulfil a dark, ancestral debt. As she is cast into the depths of a cavernous lair, the narrative quickly devolves into a predictable survival thriller, punctuated by encounters with a formidable dragon and hampered by uninspired CGI.

While the dragon itself boasts a distinctive quadrupedal design and unleashes its awe-inspiring, lore-authentic viscous breath, its taunts become tiresome and juvenile as it reaffirms, “This story always ends the same.”

Visually, the film impresses with its Tolkien-esque landscapes and imaginative costume design. However, once Elodie finds herself in the dragon’s lair, the story finds its wings clipped and takes a tumble for the worse.

A still from ‘Damsel’

A still from ‘Damsel’

What follows is a mishmash of survival thriller and creature-feature tropes, with Elodie navigating caverns that seem more reminiscent of a claustrophobic theme park ride than something truly terrifying as the VFX wears thin and the script loses its lustre.

Furthermore, Hans Zimmer’s bombastic score, while initially evocative, becomes increasingly intrusive, detracting from rather than enhancing the viewing experience. Moments intended to evoke tension or emotion are drowned out by soaring orchestral crescendos, diminishing the impact of key scenes and contributing to the film’s overall sense of tonal inconsistency.

As Elodie’s quest wears on, so too does the film’s reliance on tired clichés and gratuitous costume choices. Our protagonist grows increasingly scantily-clad, contradictory to the film’s genre-defying undertones, and the “Chainmail Bikini” debate over impractical fantasy attire rears its head as Elodie’s battle-ready outfit becomes more akin to an uncomfortable bustier than battle armour. It’s a distracting choice that undermines the film’s attempts at subversion.

As things draw to a close, the ‘plot-armoured’ protagonist, unsurprisingly bests the foul beast, only to spare it from its self-inflicted fiery end and garner its allegiance. (Important lesson: always add bioluminescent slugs to your inventory)

Millie Bobby Brown as Elodie in ‘Damsel’

Millie Bobby Brown as Elodie in ‘Damsel’

Unfortunately, amidst the mire of mediocrity, even a valiant effort from Brown, who infuses Elodie with a sense of determination and resilience, fails to resonate on a meaningful level. Supporting performances from Ray Winstone, Nick Robinson, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Angela Bassett, and Robin Wright add little substance to the narrative, leaving viewers longing for more developed characters and compelling interactions.

In its attempts to blend elements of dark fantasy with themes of empowerment and redemption, the film falls short of its ambitious goals. While it may hold some appeal for die-hard fans of the fantasy genre, or those seeking mindless entertainment, discerning viewers are likely to find little to admire in this drab offering.

In the end, Damsel feels less like a triumphant tale of empowerment and somewhere along the lines of how to train your dragon on International Women’s Day.

Damsel is currently streaming on Netflix

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