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March 8, 2024 / Netflix

Starring: Millie Bobby Brown, Robin Wright, Angela Bassett, Nick Robinson, Brooke Carter, Ray Winstone, Shohreh Aghdashloo

Directed By: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

A dutiful damsel agrees to marry a handsome prince, only to find the royal family has recruited her as a sacrifice to repay an ancient debt. Thrown into a cave with a fire-breathing dragon, she must rely on her wits and will to survive.

Written By Darren

Rating 4 out of 5

Damsel is a tense, action packed fantasy adventure that features a fierce performance from Millie Bobby Brown and great special effects work to bring to life the fantastical creatures that audiences meet along the journey, creating one exhilarating watch from start to finish.

Netflix has always attracted big named stars to their projects while also helping launch the careers of many actors, but one of their biggest home grown stars who they continue to work with is Millie Bobby Brown. After her breakout performance as Eleven on Strangers Things, Brown has continued to work with the streaming service on her Enola Holmes films, both of which were met with critical acclaim. Her latest film with the streamer continues to see Brown taking on strong female lead characters, but this time stretching her range as an actress and taking on an action heavy role. It comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with her work that Brown gives a great performance as she has in most of her previous roles, though she truly stuns as an action star and continues to prove her bankability as a leading lady.

Knowing the premise of Damsel as you watch Brown’s Elodie discover that the prince that she has been promised to and his family intend to sacrifice her to repay an ancient debt, you can’t help but watch the first act with some skepticism. You immediately know that something is up and can’t help but feel that this film is going to be incredibly predictable and rather generic due to its straightforward story and familiar plot beats. But, once Elodie is sacrificed to the dragon, the film kicks it into overdrive and becomes a non-stop thrill ride to its conclusion. There’s danger around every corner, perilous encounters with the ancient dragon stalking Elodie through the caves, and a sense of fear that Elodie may not survive the film. At the same time, the script flips the damsel in distress stereotype on its head, transforming Elodie into a powerful heroine in front of your eyes as Elodie enters adulthood in front of your eyes. It’s a smart subversion to the traditional story audiences are used to seeing within the genre, doing away with the expectation that the prince will ride in to save the princess from mortal peril, instead emphasizing that you can only ever count on yourself and highlighting one’s ability to conjure their inner strength. Both the story and the ideas the screenplay is working with keeps the audience on edge as the film progresses, crossing the realm from the fantasy genre into a survival thriller, and with the intensity created by the film’s events and the relentless violence and shocking amount of blood for a PG-13 film, it's a nail biting experience that delivers everything you could want from this film and more.

Leading the film is a truly fierce Brown, who not only once again showcases her talents as an actress, but she carries the entire film firmly on her shoulders. For the entire second act, it is just Brown on screen as Elodie evades the deadly dragon and makes her way through the dark and dangerous caves, and it's impossible to take your eyes off Brown. Not only is there a strength and determination that she brings to Elodie, but she does so while giving a physically gruelling performance as she performs action sequence after sequence. Brown has seen action before as both Eleven and Enola, but the role of Elodie is the first true action role for her and she does wonders in it as she performs the majority of her own stunts.

It comes as no surprise that Robin Wright is deliciously sinister as Queen Isabelle, creating a formidable adversary for Elodie and makes the most of her small amount of screen time. Wright’s casting is incredibly smart, taking the actress behind one of cinema’s most famous princesses and turning her into a cunning villain, building upon the film’s defiance of fairytale stereotypes. Angela Bassett is great as Elodie’s stepmother Lady Bayford, playing against the evil mother stereotype that normally accompanies the fairytale genre and stories about princesses, bringing a caring motherly figure to the film in addition to an intelligence that makes her character incredibly perceptive to what is actually happening. Nick Robinson is fine as Prince Henry, though the writing leaves very little for his character to do other than to sacrifice Elodie, but his scenes with Brown in the first act showing them falling in love feature a wonderful romantic spark between the two of them. But it is Shohreh Aghdashloo who steals the spotlight in the supporting cast as the voice of the dragon. Her voice alone is chilling, capturing both an ancient nobility and formidable strength that both draws the audience towards her character while terrifying them at the same time. Though, it is the way that Aghdashloo captures the grief within her character and channels it into her character’s revenge driven motivation that creates the perfect adversary for Brown throughout the majority of the film.

Visually, the film is a mixed bag. The beautiful Portuguese countryside looks stunning on camera, and the CGI used to bring to life the dragon and creatures Elodie encounters during her adventure is striking. While these are mythical creatures you are seeing that your mind knows are not real, they feel truly alive thanks to the CGI work and it elevates the danger faced by Elodie throughout the film. The sets of the caves give a practical environment for Brown to work with, creating a claustrophobic feeling and fear of the unknown within its darkness, while David Fleming’s musical score helps amplify the danger. Bringing to life the fantastical mediaeval times are outstanding costume design and set design, capturing the grandeur of kings and queens in a stark contrast to the darkness and largely undressed sets of the caves. It’s surprising that the film suffers from some bad CGI given how great the effects are that bring to life the film’s creatures, but there are many CGI moments in the first act that are truly terrible that are used to create the backdrop of the kingdom and the castle. It sticks out like a sore thumb and reminds you why CGI should be cautiously used in filmmaking when practical effects can better create visuals, before shifting to more practical based effects in the second and third act.

Heart pounding. Holding your breath due to fear. Gasping in shock. These are just any of the reactions you may experience while watching the latest Netflix fantasy action film Damsel. With exciting action and violence that pushes the limits of a PG-13 rating, Millie Bobby Brown once again proves herself a luminous star in the lead role of Elodie in a film that is guaranteed to thrill audiences. Smartly flipping the fairytale princess damsel in distress stereotype on its head at every turn, Damsel promises exhilarating action at every turn being brought to life by an excellent performance from Mille Bobby Brown

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