Hollow Netflix Fantasy Movie Strands Its Cast In Bad Writing

Mar 8, 2024


A weak script robs Damsel of potential – creative ideas are not enough to carry the film.
Damsel shines in dragon design & voice performance, but lacks depth in storytelling.
Lacking tactility, the movie fails to engage its audience, and action sequences fall flat without a strong script.

Since breaking out in Stranger Things season 1, Millie Bobby Brown has been the go-to example of a homegrown Netflix star. Outside the Godzilla franchise, she’s only acted in projects released by the streamer since 2016 (Enola Holmes was intended to release theatrically before the pandemic, and one imagines her career would be somewhat different now if it did). When those projects are Netflix’s flagship TV show and two fun, sequel-worthy movies, that near-exclusive arrangement looks pretty good. Considering the collaboration is set to continue through at least 2025, everyone involved had better hope Damsel is just an aberration.

Damsel is a lifeless experience. The filmmakers have assembled all the constituent parts of an interesting fantasy adventure film — genre-bending premise, a starry cast, locations with character, and some creative creature design — but the connective tissue is paper-thin. The movie isn’t devoid of ideas, but it feels they were taken for granted as all that was required for a satisfying feature, as if production spontaneously started the moment there were enough bullet points on the whiteboard.

A dutiful damsel agrees to marry a handsome prince, only to find the royal family has recruited her as a sacrifice to repay an ancient debt. Thrown into a cave with a fire-breathing dragon, she must rely on her wits and will to surviveProsInteresting dragon design & voice performance ConsWoefully thin scriptVirtually every actor is hung out to dryLacks the tactility to sell its stuntwork

Damsel Suffers From A Very Thin Script
And the rest of the movie never recovers.

The problem, first and foremost, is the script. Narratively, Damsel is little more than a premise. It plays with the damsel-in-distress archetype by making Princess Elodie’s (Brown) betrothed, Prince Henry (Nick Robinson), toss her into the dragon’s (Shohreh Aghdashloo) lair. His family has only lured her from a far-off kingdom to sacrifice her as part of a centuries-old ritual, and there will be no knight in shining armor coming to rescue her. The movie’s dragon intends to kill her. Whether she survives will be up to her.

Not bad, as far as premises go. But after several scenes of table setting, filled with awkward-sounding dialogue and characterizations so thin that even Angela Bassett and Robin Wright look stranded, the filmmakers trust the rest of their movie to one further layer of information. The first few minutes of Elodie surviving are when Damsel works best — watching Brown progress through a series of set pieces essentially distracts us from the story. The why of it all is exactly as obvious as it looks, and sitting through the movie as it digs into it for much too long is not a rewarding experience.

People don’t seek out stories set in fictional worlds to be shown something less interesting than what they can imagine on their own.

Overcoming a weak script is always an uphill battle. Action movies can sometimes survive without detailed plotting or richly developed characters, but Damsel is largely missing the tactility required to keep us invested through the stunts alone. Every performer gets at least one chance to seem stilted, or off, or distressingly low-energy — a tell-tale sign that laying blame at the actors’ feet might be unfair. But, then again, viewers get little to encourage them to be forgiving of anyone in particular.

Damsel Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo Release Date March 8, 2024 Writers Dan Mazeau

Damsel’s Creatively Conceived Dragon Is A Bright Spot
But creative ideas are the bread and butter of fantasy movies.

Except, I’d argue, for Aghdashloo. Her vocal performance lends the dragon the texture and emotion the rest of the movie so desperately needs. Design-wise, too, the creature is a clear strength. The film takes a long time to bring her into full view, but her movement is almost feline, like a lioness with wings and scales. When she breathes fire, what emerges is somewhere between the consistencies of fire and lava, which is a really wonderful touch. Elodie must run from not only the direct stream of dragonfire, but from the viscous residue that comes sloshing after her.

There’s a plot device introduced partway through that undercuts the cost of its violence, and its overall effect is severely dampening.

Consider for a moment how many such ideas are in Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (one of last year’s most underappreciated movies). They’re practically a fantasy genre requirement; people don’t seek out stories set in fictional worlds to be shown something less interesting than what they can imagine on their own. Perhaps the error is one of genre, and the way Damsel’s story is arranged would’ve been better suited as horror – an animal attack movie, but with a dragon. Not as family friendly, but it might’ve had more personality.

There are peeks at something more substantial every once in a while. The movie has a bit of a vicious streak at times, and I can feel it wanting to engage with the harm baked into the story. But its edges are sanded down. There’s a plot device introduced partway through that undercuts the cost of its violence, and its overall effect is severely dampening. Thematically, this film is supposedly interested in sacrifice and restitution, but from then on, the danger Elodie faces loses its sense of risk. Her actions become like the rest of Damsel: Hollow.


is 108 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong creature violence, action, and bloody images.

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