Damsel Review

Elodie (Millie Bobby Brown) agrees to marry a handsome prince, but the nuptials don't go according to plan when she's betrayed in order to pay off an ancient blood debt. Thrown into a cave against a fire-breathing dragon, the new bride is forced to fend for herself as she fights to survive.

by David Opie |
Published on
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Weddings are stressful at the best of times — but your dragon of an in-law is nothing compared to the actual dragon pitted against Elodie (Millie Bobby Brown) in Damsel. Much has been made of how Brown's Netflix return subverts the damsel-in-distress trope — the title even repositions this feminine cliché in a heroic light — and it's good to see the film strive to overcome stereotypes. The problem, though, is that this path to victory is paved with clichés of a very different kind, slightly undermining the point Damsel is trying to make.

The delivery — and those accents — prove as lifeless as the dragon’s victims.

The first half-hour leading up to the wedding ‘twist’ feels especially drawn out for anyone who's seen the trailer or has even an inkling of the premise. When Elodie is — shock! — thrown into a dragon-filled cave, it almost comes as a relief. There are some striking visual flourishes courtesy of 28 Weeks Later director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, and the dragon (voiced vengefully by Shohreh Aghdashloo) is convincingly rendered; you really believe Elodie is in constant danger. But it seems that came at the expense of the budget for other world-building elements, including some questionable wigs and rather conventional production design.

Brown is no stranger to a hero's world that's been turned upside-down, and in this regard, the Stranger Things star ably grounds Elodie's struggle. The same can't be said of the supporting cast, however, despite the involvement of big names like Ray Winstone, Angela Bassett and Robin Wright. There's nothing wrong with going hammy if it serves the tone, but the delivery — and those accents — prove as lifeless as the dragon’s victims. Unfortunately, that's also true of the various plot-turns, which are predictable right up to the end. Damsel wants us to take it seriously, but the central message and generic fairy-tale trappings are far too simplistic for that.

Too childish and shallow for adults, yet too brutal and gory for kids, this is one Damsel that really does need saving, after all.
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