Damsel Review – Millie Bobby Brown Goes Rambo In Diverting Netflix Adventure

Damsel Review: Taking age-old expectations of how a fairytale is supposed to play out and giving them a brisk shuffle is by no means as fresh as some film-makers often like to think, upending cliches with a tired wink and a smug smirk.

But Netflix’s Damsel, itself loosely similar to Hulu’s 2022 offering The Princess, doesn’t require our astonishment at its wheel reinvention to pass the bar and is far too sprightly to get overly bogged down in the self-satisfaction of such an endeavour.

There are, in fact, very few surprises in store here – perhaps Fast X writer Mazeau’s script could have benefitted from a few – but there’s a simple, mechanical satisfaction to watching an underdog fight her way back from the depths, driven by a familiar current of revenge. For Elodie (Netflix’s in-house leading lady Millie Bobby Brown), her journey starts in a different kind of strife.

Damsel Review, Her family, led by father (Ray Winstone) and stepmother (Angela Bassett) are struggling and so are her people, in need of a miracle to save them. It magically arrives as an offer of marriage, a handsome prince from a faraway kingdom (Nick Robinson) wants to make her his wife, steered by a strong-willed queen (Robin Wright). But her happy ending is in fact an unhappy beginning, the wedding part of an ancient ritual that sees her hurled into a cave, sacrificed to a dragon. Romance curdles into horror as Elodie must scramble back to safety.

Damsel Review, It’s a tweenage riff on a classic left-for-dead revenge tale and in a subgenre that has been done to exhaustion, watching a young woman endure this same physically gruelling rise-to-action-hero status does feel at least superficially fresher (in comparison to another bride-finds-out-wedding-is-sacrifice thriller, it’s far more effective than 2019’s Ready or Not, a film far too pleased with itself to care if we’re as entertained).

Damsel Review, In the hands of Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, a Spanish genre director who has been absent from Hollywood for a good while (the reaction to his 2011 Clive Owen horror Intruders was bad enough to keep him away), Damsel is an involving adventure of low-level pleasures as we watch Elodie discover the importance of her own resourcefulness and an independent drive over the love of a prince.

Damsel Review, It’s a gently feminist spin with the queen also leading the kingdom, Elodie’s stepmother taking control of the family and even a female dragon ruling the cave.

Damsel Review, It allows for three older female actors to take time and space in a film of this scale, gifting us with an effectively icy to-type yet underused Wright (in need of some more ferocious one-liners) and wonderfully sinister voice work from Oscar nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo.

Damsel Review – Millie Bobby Brown Goes Rambo In Diverting Netflix Adventure

Damsel Review

Like many child actors, Brown can be a little over-emphatic in her line delivery and emotional reactions, something that just about worked in the Enola Holmes movies, but something that can feel a little too self-aware and artificial at times, the sort of precociousness that’s impressive in the younger years yet less so with age.

Damsel Review, A film like Damsel doesn’t exactly require a performance that’s grounded or gritty but it’s only when the role relies on her to flip from words to action that she comes into her own.

While some of the wider landscapes can feel a little AI-bolstered, Damsel avoids a lot, if not all, of the visual tells that can remind us we’re watching a Netflix mockbuster rather than a real blockbuster. The world is immersive if a little untapped, the dragon moves with more flair and ease than CG monsters in these films often do and while the dankness of the cave setting can get a little monotonous, along with some of the story beats near the end, it’s mercifully well-lit.

Damsel Review, If Damsel doesn’t exactly rewrite the storybook, it makes for a competent rework of it, a rousing revenge saga that provides a thin yet encouraging message for its younger female audience and a balm for those older viewers who grew up being spoon-fed the same old gendered cliches. This time, there’s some salt to go with that sugar.

Damsel Review, Damsel is now available on Netflix.

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