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Damsel review: Millie Bobby Brown’s subversive fantasy is a mixed bag

Despite a strong first act, the narrative spirals down to mediocrity towards the end

Damsel review: Millie Bobby Brown’s subversive fantasy is a mixed bag

Last Updated: 10.03 PM, Mar 08, 2024


Story: Elodie (Millie Bobby Brown), a young woman from a region which is deprived of resources, agrees to marry a Prince from a distant land. She believes that the alliance will bring much-needed prosperity for her people. However, the Prince and his royal family have sinister ulterior motives. The marriage is merely a ruse to sacrifice the new Princess to a dragon that resides in the kingdom.


Review: A fresh spin on familiar dark fantasy tales is always intriguing. Damsel, directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, opens with conviction with an excellent setting and premise. The narrative and the character motivations are complex, and the film sails through the first and second acts with a sense of unbridled ambition. The visuals are stunning and the impending betrayal that beckons Elodie is meticulously crafted to keep one invested in the story. Elodie’s bid to escape the dragon’s lair has elements of a claustrophobic thriller film. However, the film’s excellent first half quickly dissipates as a result of a poorly-written third act.


Millie Bobby Brown is no ‘stranger’ to playing a powerful female protagonist. While her role as Eleven in the hit sci-fi series Stranger Things leans on her character’s remarkable superpowers, Elodie in Damsel relies on sheer willpower and wit. There is subtlety in how Elodie's character is written for the film. Certain female-led action or adventure films are at times guilty of imitating popular male heroes. In Damsel, Elodie is certainly a strong female protagonist, but the writers have not shied away from showcasing some of her vulnerabilities that come with being young. The narrative has also incorporated convincing plot devices to establish how Elodie managed to survive the dragon longer than all the other innocent girls before her, who were sacrificed to the dragon.


However, the third act is the film’s Achilles Heel and the shift in quality is far too evident to ignore. One might even argue that the film's ending is not far off from being labelled ridiculous. It essentially risked destabilising the gripping story told in the first half of the film. Even the pacing of the story becomes riddled with inconsistencies, as Brown’s Elodie quickly turns from being a determined and intelligent woman to one who can wield a sword and go face-to-face with a fire-breathing dragon. This is despite the narrative never hinting that Elodie is trained in combat. It is also a shame that Angela Bassett, who plays Elodie’s stepmother, is severely under-utilised in the film. In contrast, Ray Winstone as Elodie’s father has one of the best character arcs in the film, while Robin Wright plays the role of a generic conniving and evil Queen.


The film is an examination of feminist themes and a social commentary on how young women are often denied agency in their own lives. There is also an exploration of the ideas of imperialism and colonialism. However, the film's attempts to be inclusive are a little on the nose. Elodie’s brief vision of the young women who were sacrificed to the dragon features one woman from all of the different ethnicities and it reeks of tokenism. Whether different ethnicities need to be shoehorned in a story inspired by European folklore is debatable. One could argue that it is plausible in an alternate reality where even dragons exist. However, by incorporating people of colour into mediaeval fantasy stories set in Europe, Hollywood would rather tick the right boxes instead of focusing on meaningful efforts to explore the vibrant histories and folklore of cultures across Asia, Africa, and other regions.


Verdict: Damsel promises an intriguing tale by subverting a few familiar tropes from popular fantasy stories. Despite a few compelling character arcs the plot quickly descends into a few absurdities. These glaring flaws shackle the film’s true potential.



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