Damsel proves a distressed lady can save herself

Courtesy photo by John Wilson/Netflix
SISTERLY LOVE: Elodie (Millie Bobby Brown, left) and her sister, Floria (Brooke Carter), share a moment on Elodie’s wedding day, both unaware that Elodie must soon battle a dragon, in Damsel, streaming on Netflix.

Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later) directs this dark fantasy about dutiful Elodie (Millie Bobby Brown), a royal from an impoverished kingdom, whose father, Lord Bayford (Ray Winston)—in exchange for wealth—arranges to marry her to Prince Henry (Nick Robison) from the prosperous kingdom of Aurea, ruled by King Roderick (Milo Twomey) and Queen Isabelle (Robin Wright). At first, Elodie is enchanted, but she soon learns she’s being used to repay Aurea’s ancient debt to a fierce dragon (voiced by Shohreh Aghdashloo). (110 min.)

Glen: Dan Mazeau’s (Fast X, Wrath of the Titans) screenplay is all about turning the trite “heroic knight saves the damsel in distress” trope on its head. After Elodie is thrown into the dragon’s underground chasm, it’s clear she’s on her own. The only help she’ll get are clues left by earlier victims scratched into the cave’s walls. It’s a nice idea, and I think Mazeau plays it right by making it clear that despite how fierce and resourceful Elodie is, she’s in for a tough time. The problem, of course, is we know she’ll eventually succeed, which deflates tension. Luckily, Brown is an appealing hero, and her performance nearly makes up for a story that doesn’t quite reach its feminist potential. I wish I could have seen it on the big screen because it’s visually stunning, and seeing it play grandly might have overcome the screenplay’s deficiencies.

Anna: Brown’s dance card has been pretty full since her breakout roll as Eleven in Stranger Things, and I’m excited to see her in this starring role. No doubt many more will follow. Elodie and her family are hoodwinked by her new beau, Henry, and his family. Once married, Henry promptly throws her into an enormous cavern. I’ve seen some reviews that claim the effects were clunky in parts of the film, but I thought it visually captivating. Maybe the small screen helped to mask some things I missed. I agree that the wind is taken out of the sails a bit in the storyline. We know Elodie is going to make it through her ordeal, so it loses a bit of bite in that respect. I think this would be a great movie for tweens; it has messages of resourcefulness and independence and a very young-adult fantasy feel. The costuming and set design are solid, and the action keeps the story rolling.

Glen: I thought the special effects were solid. The dragon is fierce, the landscape’s beautiful, and little touches are well done. The glowing worms that Elodie discovers in the caves that help light the darkness and heal injuries were a cool addition and turned out to be central to Elodie’s later interactions with the dragon. In fact, shout out to Aghdashloo, who voices it with panache. She was amazing. I would have liked more for Wright and Angela Bassett (who plays Elodie’s stepmom) to do. They felt underutilized, but I liked the inclusive casting. This fantasy world looked like a Benetton advertisement. If you have Netflix and like fantasy, it’s worth a look.

Anna: Definitely worth a watch. It falls in the middle rating category on both IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, with the audience score a bit higher than critics, which all makes sense to me. The voice acting on Aghdashloo’s part is fantastic, and the dynamics between the two characters gives the story depth and weight. The plotting may be predictable, but that doesn’t make it unenjoyable. There may be some slowdowns here or there, but overall, the film proved to be an adventure. It’s a great film to curl up on the couch and watch for family movie night.

New Times Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Sun Screen. Comment at [email protected].

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