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‘Damsel’ Film Review: A Dark Female-Driven Adventure

Mar 8, 2024

In an age where almost all Hollywood has to offer are fantasy pictures and comic book adaptations that drown themselves in too much CGI, it is the rare film that breaks from the norm and actually finds ways to hold an audience’s interest. Written by Dan Mazeau and directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, the new film “Damsel” falls into a few of modern Hollywood’s trappings, but manages to etch out an interesting and exciting tale anchored by a strong lead performance from Millie Bobby Brown. 

The film is a dark fantasy concerning “Elodie” (Brown), a young noblewoman who is arranged to marry a prince (Nick Robinson). Elodie and her family (including little sister Floria, played by Brooke Carter) are welcomed with not-so-open arms by the Queen and her king (Robin Wright and Milo Twomey, respectively). On the eve of the wedding, Elodie’s stepmother (Angela Bassett) fears something is not right, as the Queen is cold to her while Elodie’s father (Ray Winstone) seems filled with anger and regret. 

As the wedding commences, Elodie’s family returns home and the newly christened princess is “invited” to participate in her new family’s sinister ritual. After being thrown into a dragon’s cave, it eventually becomes clear that her father has sold her to the kingdom as a sacrifice to make good on an old family debt. What follows is a battle of strength and wits between Elodie and the dragon, as she fights to save herself and her family. 

Millie Bobby Brown does her best work yet, finding a multi-layered role in Elodie. As she did on every season of “Stranger Things”, Brown embraces her character’s suffering and strength, crafting herself into a believable heroine, flawlessly portraying a young girl forced to become a woman in the harshest of ways. The intensity of her situation (trapped in the dragon’s lair) allows the actress to push herself, crafting a performance of passion and power. Filmed on location in a network of caves in Portugal, Brown and her director were given a big canvas in which to create. Elodie is a very physical role and the terrain allowed for some exciting sequences where Brown’s character learns the depth of her mettle. 

Cinematographer Larry Fong shoots the caves with a proper darkness, portraying the Hell where Elodie will have to save herself. The lair is a grim companion to the idyllic Portuguese countryside. Fong makes excellent use of both locals, succeeding in keeping the CGI (pretty much) at bay. 

Make no mistake, while the film has princesses and kings and queens, this is no youthful fluff piece. Fresnadillo has crafted a grim and intense tale and one that breathes with danger and viciousness in almost every moment, with a few scenes of flat out horror. It is refreshing to see a modern filmmaker embrace the violent aura of their story and not kowtow to the puritanical audiences of today. 

As the dragon (rendered beautifully by the FX team), character actress Shohreh Aghdashloo is perfection. Using her deep voice to chilling effect, Aghdashloo creates a villain responsible for moments more exciting than any found in Peter Jackson’s entire “Hobbit” trilogy. Thanks to her great work and the clever screenplay, the film features the best dragon versus human arc since Matthew Robbins’ 1981 treasure, “Dragonslayer”. 

While the big reveal comes too early, some of the special effects aren’t always top tier, and Winstone, Bassett, and Wright deserve more screen time, “Damsel” is revisionist fairy tale done right; a female driven adventure with more gumption than many of its ilk. 

Fresnadillo’s film is an involving and sometimes rousing entertainment. After the recent “Spaceman“, this is another winner for Netflix.

 

Damsel

Written by Dan Mazeu

Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

Starring Millie Bobby Brown, Ray Winstone, Robin Wright, Angela Bassett, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Brooke Carter, Nick Robinson

PG-13, 108 Minutes, Netflix, PCMA Productions, Roth/Kirschenbaum Films

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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