Millie Bobby Brown stands near a hanging lightbulb in a dimly-lit room.

Film Review: Damsel

Film Reviews

Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

PMCA Productions and Roth/Kirschenbaum Films
Streaming on Netflix 03.08

Ever since Stranger Things premiered in 2016, Netflix and Millie Bobby Brown (Enola Holmes) have had an almost symbiotic relationship. They made her a star and she gave them star power, becoming a symbol of quality original programming. The fantasy adventure Damsel is their latest offering, and the potential was there for a really exciting one.

Brown plays Elodie, the daughter of the noble Lord Bayford (Ray Winstone, The Departed, Beowulf), who is deeply in debt and who could benefit greatly from powerful connections, such as a royal match. It’s with this in mind that Eloise accepts the proposal to marry the charming Prince Henry of Aurea (Nick Robinson, Jurassic World), securing her family’s prestigious status. Surprisingly, she also feels a genuine connection with Henry, though his mother, Queen Isabelle (Robin Wright, The Princess Bride, Forrest Gump) is a bit icy. Still, Elodie is determined to make the best of things. There is a slight complication on the day of the wedding, when it is revealed that the royal family has chosen her to be tossed into a pit as a sacrificial offering to a ferocious, fire breathing dragon in order to settle an age-old debt. Now, Elodie must depend on her intelligence and determination to stay alive.

Damsel sounds like a lot of fun on paper, and the cast and all the right elements are there. It’s a shame that screenwriter Dan Mazeau (Wrath of the Titans, Fast X) and director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later) are less interested in having fun than in making a dark and gritty bore that wants to be part Game of Thrones, part Hunger Games, and misses the mark on both counts. While Damsel isn’t terrible, it’s humorless, bland and too hokey to pull off the deadly serious tone that the filmmakers have chosen. While the premise of a family recruiting brides for sacrifice to appease a dark force is a simple reworking of the 2019 horror comedy Ready or Not, it’s undeniably less convoluted here. On the other hand, it’s not even half as entertaining as that film, which had the good sense to play things firmly tongue-in-cheek. One of the biggest missteps in Damsel comes in trying too hard for dramatic heft by humanizing the dragon, giving her a voice and tragic backstory. The result is that Damsel tanks as a scary creature feature because the monster isn’t a monster, and it fails as an exciting adventure because the action is routine at best and clumsy at worst. Instead, Damsel is awkwardly depressing.

Brown couldn’t give a bad performance if she tried, and there are moments when the movie works simply because it’s resting on her shoulders, though it should be able to go much further with such support. Elodie is arguably the least interesting character that the young actress has played to date, and it’s maddening to see this powerhouse performer get a major star vehicle that simply  doesn’t go anywhere. Wright deserves better as well, with the stunt casting of Princess Buttercup as the villainous Queen being just clever enough to work for almost four full minutes before the need for a modicum of depth becomes desperately needed to justify her presence. Angela Bassett (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) fares marginally better as Lady Bayford, Elodie’s stepmother, and the marvelous Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog, Renfield) is terrific as the voice of the dragon. The cast is all more than up to the task, they are simply failed by a bad script and pedestrian direction.

Damsel may still find a following with hardcore fantasy geeks, or even just those who are justifiably desperate for more female action stars. As a movie that takes up a little less than two hours of your life from the comfort of your couch, it’s passable. The problem is that it had the potential to be something special, and as a fantasy geek and loyal Brown fan, I had high hopes that ended up at the bottom of a dank, dark pit. –Patrick Gibbs

Read more film reviews from Patrick here:
Film Review: Love Lies Bleeding
Film Review: Spaceman