‘Damsel’ (2024) Review: Millie Bobby Brown Fights A Dragon In A Dungeon And It’s Boring


Teasers, trailers, and those who edit them get a lot of unfair flak. If it’s not properly edited, then it’s lambasted to hell. If it is properly edited, it sets unrealistic expectations, and if the movie doesn’t meet those expectations, then the trailer editors are criticized for cutting a trailer that doesn’t represent the quality of the movie at all. The marketing department probably keeps pushing these editors to put all the best stuff in the teasers and trailers. If they end up showing too much, then they are vilified for ruining the viewing experience. If they don’t show a lot, then it doesn’t generate enough interest, thereby leading to another kind of vilification. But here’s the cold, hard truth: sometimes the movie (or the show) that’s being cut into a trailer is not good to begin with. Sometimes, what you see in a trailer accurately represents what the final product is going to be like. It’s just our inability to digest the fact that something can be so vapid that it causes us to lash out on the trailer instead of preparing ourselves for the train wreck ahead. Anyway, let’s talk about Damsel.

Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s Damsel, opens with a king and his subjects facing a dragon and being burned to a crisp. The narrative moves forward in time by a few centuries and takes us to the kingdom of Lord and Lady Bayford. Princess Elodie and her sister Floria are seen cutting the last of the woods to keep themselves warm through the winter season. Food is scarce, people are dying, and apparently, there’s no solution in sight. That’s when the Bayfords get an invitation from Queen Isabelle to visit her kingdom and allow Elodie to marry Prince Henry. In exchange, Queen Isabelle will save the Bayfords’ kingdom. Lord and Lady Bayford are ready to accept the offer, and looking at the situation of the people, Elodie also agrees to get married. Elodie and Henry hit it off almost instantly, and, despite some warning signs here and there, they go ahead with the wedding. However, as you must have seen in the trailer, right after the marriage, Elodie is thrown into a pit, then she fights a dragon, makes it out of there, and confronts Queen Isabelle. I swear, I’m not giving any spoilers; it’s all in the trailer.

I genuinely don’t know why Damsel has been made. Back in 2022, Le-Van Kiet made The Princess, which subverted the damsel-in-distress trope by having the princess save herself instead of waiting for a prince to save her. In 2021, Scott Derrickson delivered The Black Phone, where the ghosts of the victims of The Grabber helped his latest victim escape from his clutches. In 2019, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett gave us Ready or Not, where a cursed family tried to kill the newlywed bride in order to save themselves from being killed by the ghosts that were haunting them. If you put all of these narratives through a machine, set it in the fantasy genre, and insert some random observations masquerading as meaningful dialogues, then what you’ll have in your hands is the screenplay of Damsel. Of course, everything is a copy of a copy of a copy, but what sets a copy apart from the original (if there is one) is its commentary on the tropes of the original or the relevancy of its themes. Does Mazeau have anything new to say? Well, I guess (and it’s a massive guess) that by showing three female characters (Elodie, Isabelle, and the Dragon) fighting each other because of the mistakes of a man, Mazeua is stating that men create problems, and everyone else suffers because of it. And instead of fighting each other, we should seek to rectify the bad effects of patriarchy. But then I see the dragon melting the face of the matriarch, as opposed to making her introspect about her misdeeds, and I feel confused all over again.

I get it. In the 21st century, it’s tough to come up with a fresh perspective, especially if you are a man who is centering his movie around a woman and trying to speak about feminism through a fight with a dragon in a dungeon. But is it really that tough to conjure up interesting visuals, memorable action sequences, or compelling moments that’ll make a mark in the fantasy genre? When we talk about good live-action fantasy movies (and strictly fantasy movies with magical realism, not superhero or sci-fi movies), Lord of the Rings, Excalibur, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Willow, Clash of the Titans (the 1981 film), Conan the Barbarian, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Mummy, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hook, and even Monty Python and the Holy Grail come to mind. Now, if you look at those, and if you look at Damsel, you can see the chasm in terms of quality. It’s not even on par with fantasy TV shows (I won’t say the genre is exactly thriving because every fantasy TV show starts off well and then plummets into oblivion). The visuals inside the cave are straight-up horrendous. The VFX and CGI used for the dragon fire are decent. The dragon doesn’t look intimidating at all, and she looks ugly. Some of the scenes of the characters running are awful because it’s so clear they are sprinting on a treadmill instead of, you know, the ground. The use of the layered costume design is somewhat smart, but the way the film conveniently works its way around the concept of injuries, thereby rendering the wear and tear of the costume moot, is laughable. Also, the movie is 1 hour and 49 minutes long. I don’t usually complain about running times, but dedicating so much time to essentially nothing is brave.

When it comes to the cast of Damsel, the movie entirely rests on Millie Bobby Brown’s shoulders. So, let me preface my criticism of her performance a little bit. Much like the cast of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Narnia, and even Twilight, I have seen Brown grow up right in front of my eyes as the face of a massive franchise like Stranger Things. Knowing what I know about showbiz, and despite being unaware of what these actors are really like in their real lives, they occupy a soft spot in my heart because it seems like I have grown up with them. Naturally, that comes in the way of any genuine criticism because it hurts to bash a “friend” who has put their heart and soul into a movie. That said, after learning that Brown is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador who rubs shoulders with a bigoted actor and refuses to call out the most horrifying atrocity in human history, I don’t think I have to keep my gloves on. Yes, I do think that Brown is horribly miscast in the film. She has no screen presence whatsoever. She can’t pull off action sequences, even if her life depends on them. She shouldn’t take all the blame for it, though, because she is working with an incompetent director and a talentless writer. By the way, the movie also has actors like Robin Wright, Nick Robinson, Ray Winstone, Angela Bassett, and Shohreh Aghdashloo, and their roles are painfully forgettable. I just hope they got paid appropriately to appear in this stupid film.

It is true that superhero movies have taken over the high fantasy genre, but non-superhero fantasy movies are still being made. There’s George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing, David Lowery’s The Green Knight, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, and Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Malaikottai Vaaliban. I know that that is not a lot because Disney has populated this space with live-action remakes of their animated classics, and those abominations should be avoided like the plague. But that doesn’t mean I have to celebrate poorly made movies like Damsel just because they fall into the high-fantasy genre, in the hopes that motivates producers to greenlight more high-fantasy films. Alternatively, I will request that they watch all the aforementioned examples that I have cited positively, take notes from them, and then make movies like them. That’s not an excuse to remake them, by the way. My sense of nostalgia has dried up. Give me something original, or let me rewatch the classics. Additionally, if your entire film—original or copied—can fit into a 3-minute-long trailer, maybe go back to the drawing board until you come up with something substantial.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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