Review of Damsel: The Millie Bobby Brown-starring Netflix film is in trouble

By Gita Samanta Mar15,2024
Review of Damsel: The Millie Bobby Brown-starring Netflix film is in troubleReview of Damsel: The Millie Bobby Brown-starring Netflix film is in trouble

Not even a massive talking dragon, portrayed by the incomparable Shohreh Aghdashloo, can avert the inevitable in this feminist fantasy survival thriller.

With more than eight years of expertise, Rotten Tomatoes has certified film critic Akhil Arora as a member of the Film Critics Guild.

The new Netflix film Damsel, starring Millie Bobby Brown from Stranger Things, is a part of a relatively young wave of feminist films that aim to debunk the preconceptions attached to fantasy films like these. Its provocative assertions—that this is not a tale of a white knight saving a damsel in distress—are immediately apparent.

Review of Damsel: The Millie Bobby Brown-starring Netflix film is in trouble
Review of Damsel: The Millie Bobby Brown-starring Netflix film is in trouble

However, it contains all the other classic components: a villainous queen, a gullible younger sister, parents who are not entirely doubtful, and a prince who is controlled by his mother. Oh, and there’s a talking dragon as well. We’ll address that later.) However, this 101-minute completely self-serious story has very little to say and much less to demonstrate. Damsel is not funny at all. I was expecting for the movie to really get going, to show me what it had promised and to amaze me with its action, but that never happened.

You never truly know where it will end up.
Thirty-five minutes in, that is first indicated. Damsel implies that it’s ready to plunge you right into the action after developing the lore and going over the essential details of the plot. As in, go on to the monster parts. Oh, and did I mention that the dragon has Shohreh Aghdashloo’s gravelly voice? I’m sold—Aghdashloo ought to now speak for all dragons. Unfortunately, though, the Netflix movie is a touch erratic.

It turns out that the backstory isn’t truly finished. In the end, it’s more of an exploration/survival thing. While that may seem reasonable, in practice it means Damsel loses the momentum it creates for itself. Like, several times. That being said, I don’t think either Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, the director of 28 Weeks Later, or the movie really know where they are headed.

The fact that most of Damsel is set inside a cave doesn’t help; those sequences were probably filmed mostly on a sound stage. (It was also partially shot in Portugal; however, I assume that was only for the outside sequences.) That’s why the majority of stuff seems boring.

Furthermore, Brown spends the majority of the new Netflix film fleeing from Aghdashloo’s dragon rather than engaging in any real battle. I was always left with the impression that the set pieces made the dragon appear foolish, even when it did open up.

The longer the film runs, the worse Damsel gets; at one point, it almost seems to be running around in circles. Additionally, as it closes up, it gives in to pretentious speech (Dan Mazeau, Fast X) and blatantly obvious efforts at symbolism.

The story of Damsel revolves around a dragon and a princess named Elodie “Ellie” Bayford (Brown), who lives far up north in a harsh and desolate land where resources are scarce and people are on the verge of starvation with her father, Lord Bayford (Ray Winstone), and stepmother, Lady Bayford (Angela Bassett). According to Lord Bayford, they won’t survive till spring.

Fortunately, he has found a match with the Kingdom of Aurea. Ellie claims that she has never heard of the kingdom, which may indicate that anything is wrong with her schooling or could be the first clue that something is off. Ultimately, the game will be very beneficial to Bayfords, but it’s not apparent what the kingdom will gain from it. Emboldened by the possibility that this union will save their people, the foursome immediately departs for Aurea.

Fruit is plentiful and the gardens are well-kept in the island kingdom, whereas the north is in dire straits. There are warning indications, nevertheless, from the beginning.

Although a touch distant, Henry (Nick Robinson) seems kind and sincere in his interest in Ellie, while Queen Isabelle (Robin Wright) is icy and direct with Lady Bayford, reminding her of her father’s poor status and clearly outlining the parameters of their new family structure.

Ellie dismisses her worries and embraces her new role as Princess of Aurea, having been swept away by the wealth and thinking only of home. But surely you can see where this is going. She is brought to the mountains immediately following the wedding and told about the history of the island. One hint: a dragon is involved. Ellie transforms from a princess to a sacrificed lamb in a matter of minutes.

It’s Brown vs. nobody in Damsel.
Because of the structure of the narrative, Brown essentially bears Damsel’s weight. Despite being excellent actors, Winstone, Bassett, and Wright are given very little screen time. Among all the actors in this Netflix movie, Wright has the most monotonous part. Although Bassett and Winstone are given a little more range, they are absent for the majority of the action.

After all, Brown and a computer-generated monster feature prominently in Damsel. No scene companion is present. (I assume Aghdashloo recorded her lines in a recording room and was never on set.) Despite spending ninety minutes in the cave, the movie gives the dragon a lot of talk but fails to give her a deep and meaningful backstory.

In fact, as the movie progresses, the dragon is made to appear ridiculous. She takes choices that are inconsistent with her behaviour as a fire-breathing, devouring monster and that suit Brown’s protagonist. (This unsatisfactory quality especially stands apparent towards the end of the movie.)

Brown could have done well to speak with Wright, who is best known for playing a damsel in distress more than three decades ago, if she really had carte blanche at Netflix and wanted to be the lead in a fantasy movie set in the Middle Ages.

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