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Damsel Film Review: Familiar yet Alluring

Millie Bobby Brown turns around as Elodie in the 2024 Netflix film Damsel

Damsel’s twists on common fairytale tropes are nothing new, but the film is elevated by Millie Bobby Brown’s performance and a basic yet solid script.

This warning is probably too late, but if by any chance you haven’t seen the official trailer for Netflix’s Damsel, don’t change that. Thankfully, I saw the trailer after I watched the film, and boy, it shows far too much. Fire the trailer guy, hell, fire all the trailer guys who keep making these “movie in three minutes” sorts of trailer.

Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, Damsel follows Elodie (Millie Bobby Brown), a daughter from a struggling noble family. One day, she is selected to marry a young prince and bring livelihood back to her family’s lands. However, it turns out to be a trap, as she’s instead offered up as sacrifice to an ancient dragon and thrown into its cave. Now, this damsel must work her way out of distress.

Let’s make things clear: Damsel’s twist is about as fresh as a dragon’s breath. Maybe if it had come out during the early Disney era it would have been hailed as fresh and shocking, but nowadays, when badass female action heroes (including princesses) are more plentiful than ever, it’s hard to look at this particular one and go, “this will definitely shake up the genre!”

So, with the novelty factor out of the picture, what Damsel had left to win me over with were its characters and story. And thankfully, those turned out as immersive as I hoped. This is in no small part thanks to Millie Bobby Brown. I can’t imagine how big of a job this must have been for her. She spends a good chunk of the movie isolated in the dragon’s cave and has no other actors to really bounce off of, meaning she has to carry the emotions of a scene all through her acting alone.

And by god, she pulls it off magnificently. You feel her despair, her horror, her pain as she suffers significantly more than a few scratches in her journey. The director clearly knew this was the main meat of the film, and she makes Elodie’s journey feel convincing, even if that journey is familiar. That’s what still makes her feel relatable, and what will immerse audiences into the story.

Millie Bobby Brown leans on some rocks as Elodie in the 2024 Netflix film Damsel
Millie Bobby Brown as Elodie in the film Damsel (John Wilson / Netflix © 2024)

Of course, the rest of the film’s elements cannot be understated. I was especially impressed by the set design. I am a sucker for well-crafted fantasy locations, and the dragon’s cave is quite memorable with its multiple locations. It also lends well to multiple moments of suspense, and while I wouldn’t say this Damsel goes for straight horror, it does have those elements that feel natural given her situation. I mean, I would be trembling in just a regular dark cave, much less one with a dragon in it.

The story is, again, fairly standard. She gets betrayed, what doesn’t kill her simply makes her stronger, then she aims to get payback for becoming a takeout meal. What’s interesting, then, is that the film actually spends a significant amount of time in the dragon’s cave prior to Elodie’s incarceration. It goes over her meeting with the royal family, her hopes regarding the marriage, and more. In fact, it takes 35 minutes for the titular damsel to be in any distress at all.

One would think this is all rather pointless: after all, they give away that Elodie’s going to be betrayed right from the IMDb premise. But I actually appreciated this slower pacing, since it gives very much of a deep breath before the plunge vibes. It also gives us more time to get to know Elodie enough to not want her bones to be toothpick material for the dragon, and builds tension on just when the royal family will do their job as a doordash delivery for the dragon.

There are some odd bits of pacing here and there, however, and while they aren’t enough to bring down the entire film, they did make me scratch my head a little. The biggest example is when Elodie makes a decision to go confront the dragon on her own for spoilery reasons. You would think she would hesitate more than a minute before thinking of going to that nightmarish monster on her own volition, but she immediately snaps to commando mode with barely even a thought.

In addition, there are just too many conveniences for the heroine regarding the dragon. Now, I never had a girl sacrificed to me, so I won’t pretend like I understand when a dragon wants to play with its food or not. But even then, there are just too many times where the dragon doesn’t attack fast or furious enough for the situation to feel convincing. Normally I won’t try to nitpick too much, but when it starts to threaten my immersion, then I count it as a legitimate criticism.

Damsel: Trailer (Netflix)

This is especially the case in the climax, where a part of Elodie’s confrontation involves Elodie slowly stumbling away like she has a really bad hangover and the dragon following her at the same pace, instead of jumping on her or breathing fire right away. Again, I never had to choose how to hunt down and kill a girl myself (and I pray I don’t ever have to), but when it feels like the dragon was waiting for the script to move onto the next scene, I start to turn my focus onto my bowl of popcorn instead.

Still, as I said, those are small complaints at best. Ultimately, I was invested in Elodie’s journey and was glad to see that she didn’t become part of the dragon’s Kitchen Nightmares episode. This is a fairly short review, but that’s only because the film knew how to pace itself properly and deliver a standard fairy tale twist story in an engaging manner. In the end, this Damsel was attractive enough for me to not sacrifice it to my critical side.

Damsel will be available to watch on Netflix on March 8, 2024.

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