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Review: Damsel. Brilliant, feminist story about a remarkable, young woman

  • Release year: 2024
  • Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo.
  • Producers: Morgan Bushe, Chris Castaldi, Jeff Kirschenbaum, Jonathan Loughran and Joe Roth.
  • Screenplay by: Dan Mazeau.
  • Cinematographer: Larry Fong.
  • Music by: David Fleming.

Synopsis: a damsel gets sold for marriage into a royal family who wishes to use her as a sacrifice.

Shotgun Commentary: another Millie Bobby Brown adventure where a young girl is her own saviour.

Elodie (Millie Bobby Brown) running away from the dragon.
Source: Damsel (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, 2024).

Review

Damsel follows Princess Elodie (Millie Bobby Brown), a young girl who decides to sacrifice her future for the good of her people by getting into an arranged marriage. Only she doesn’t know what she is really getting into. After getting tossed into a cave as a sacrifice for a dragon, she must use all her abilities and wit to outsmart the dragon and escape her lair.

Princess Enola

This Netflix production is quite similar to previous Millie Bobby Brown films of the same company. The feminist “be your own hero” message is loud and clear. The protagonist is as noble and educated as can be, and her flaws are anything but. Action films in which men are finally completely unnecessary send a very positive message, especially for young audiences.

Truthfully, they are movies that one can look forward to watching. While they will not change your life, they will certainly improve your mood and provide some light entertainment for a relaxed movie night.

Elodie being carried by prince Henry (Nick Robinson).
Source: Damsel (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, 2024).

While Damsel is very similar to a medieval version of the Enola Holmes’ instalments, it differs from them in certain key points. Some with better results than others. Other than the period, there is no breaking of the fourth wall in this one, which gives it a seriousness that fits well with the gravity of her situation. Sadly, this atmosphere also means that Damsel has none of the humour, quirkiness or pizazz that Enola Holmes has, which is a bummer since it deprives the film of some charisma. However, the tone also gives the opportunity for very intense tension moments and perfectly-timed jump scares that keep the audience on their toes and add personality to the development of the story.

But… why?

There are two script decisions that don’t quite add up. If you don’t want any spoilers, I recommend you stop reading here and keep going after watching the film. Now, to the important questions. Firstly, if Elodie has escaped her cave, why does the dragon chase her instead of burning the whole kingdom down? The film justifies this behaviour as the dragon hating Elodie’s guts. This doesn’t really make sense, since she has not taunted the dragon nor offended her in any way. She is merely a sacrifice made to appease the dragon into not destroying the kingdom. So, wouldn’t it make more sense to just burn the place down?

Elodie and Henry looking at his land. Source: Damsel (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, 2024).

Thinking about it further, the dragon’s decision could be justified as she not wanting to kill the royal family because she wants them to keep suffering, or because she doesn’t know what she would do as the last of her species if she didn’t have anything to look forward to. But none of that is shown at that moment. It could be inferred through other moments, which would be a great move (Three hoorays for not over-explaining!), but the dragon talks out loud about her inexplicable fixation with Elodie, making cleat that the disappointing answer is the correct one. Or, at least, the main one.

Yes… but, why??

As for the second incomprehensible moment, it takes place almost at the end of the film, when the dragon burns herself. Now, this is not the first time in cinema history in which a dragon burns itself. Nevertheless, it has always been a puzzling fact. Not because of the whole “fireproof on the inside, inflammable on the outside” thing, that much is clear. The question comes in terms of raising the little hatchlings.

Elodie mimicking to perfection my face with the burnt dragon.
Source: Damsel (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, 2024).

Whenever the scene happens where a dragon burns itself, and especially in Damsel, where motherhood is such a central theme, it is easy to remember Hagrid and Norbert (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, 2001). In particular, when Norbert sneezes and burns Hagrid’s beard. How are momma dragons supposed to bring up their hatchlings if they are not protected against these type of accidents? Is this a commentary on the suffering, sacrifice and hardships of motherhood? If so, bravo. If not, I demand compensation.

The ideal lead

Elodie is an instantly likeable protagonist. She is witty, kind, responsible and mature, yet approachable and romantic. Millie Bobby Brown portrays strong females during their coming of age period superbly, and Elodie is no exception. As far as character creation and performance go, the princess is a fantastic person that makes the audience want to follow her story and be invested in her fate. Regrettably, when it comes to putting this remarkable woman in a script and show her story, there are two big, glowing mistakes that make it clear that both the writer and the director are men.

Take off your man glasses

The first, and so obvious that it is annoying, problem is Elodie’s screaming. At first, when she yells because she’s scared about falling into a cave and when she first sees the dragon, it makes sense. The other three billion times, when she just yells for the sake of yelling (or very likely because that’s how men think a girl in peril behaves), make absolutely no sense. Would it be weird for a random boy trapped in a cave with a dragon looking for him to yell all the time? How many times does Frodo scream when the spider is chasing him (Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, 2003)? I rest my case, your honour.

Elodie yelling because… you know… women n’ stuff.
Source: Damsel (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, 2024).

The second nonsense is one that would make the world so great if it had any logic: the haircut moment. It is a four-second move tops, and yet such a gorgeous, ridiculous move. Putting aside the fact that she should’ve done that within the first ten minutes of being in the cave, or at least tried it, like any woman would have done in her position, this action poses an obvious question. Is the “immaculate hairstyle after one chop with a cave-rock-sharpened knife” a princess skill, or can commoners learn that too? Are there courses for it? Can anyone enrol?

The Netflix signature

The end credits’ song is worth mentioning as a fun detail. The use of a female-sung version of The Ring of Fire is very fitting for the movie, and its tempo is relaxed and follows the end scene beautifully. Regardless, the reason why it’s worth mentioning is because of the on-brand humour. The double meaning Netflix-classic lame joke of using this song both for its literal meaning of fire because of the dragon, and its figurative meaning because Elodie was trapped in a horrible marriage are the perfect cherry to put on top of this sundae of entertainment.

Advice to take from this movie:

  • Wearing your hair up when crawling and climbing is not only clever, it is common sense.
  • To whoever needs to know this, women don’t yell whenever there’s a minimal inconvenience. We also have enough brain capacity to know not to make noises when someone dangerous is looking for us.
  • If something smells fishy, don’t ignore it, you might end up in a cave with a dragon.
Elodie exploring the cave. Source: Damsel (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, 2024).

What’s your take? Have you watched Damsel? What do you think of it? Don’t hesitate to let me know your thoughts in the comments section below, or leave a message in my contact page! For more reviews and cinema-related articles, check out the rest of my blog! 😀

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