STREAMING

Published March 24, 2024

When Damsel opens after a half-explained action scene between a king’s soldier and a dragon, centuries have passed, and the rocky caves of their battle are exchanged with the cold hard winter of a faraway land.

Here, Floria (Brooke Carter), the youngest daughter of Lord Bayford (Ray Winstone), the ruler of the famine-stricken kingdom of Inophe, drags long branches of a dead tree across the barren soil for her elder sister, Elodie (Millie Bobby Brown) to chop down. This is the last of the trees, which they will be taking to town to help those in need, along with the family’s fur and drapes.

Notwithstanding their sense of responsibility — they’re good people, really, who are stuck in desperation — the condition of the lord’s family isn’t that much different than its people. Their house is without help and good food to eat; also, one senses a bit of friction between the daughters and their father’s second wife, Lady Bayford (Angela Bassett).

Their fates would change soon enough, when Elodie is invited to wed Prince Henry of Aurea (Nick Robinson), the prospering faraway land of green meadows, clean skies and imposing mountainscapes. There is just one big hitch though: the proposal for marriage comes out of the blue, and neither the regent Queen Isabelle (Robin Wright) and her consort Roderick (Milo Twomey), nor the prince has ever seen Elodie.

Damsel is predictable and is easy, and easily dismissable viewing

The deal, however, is too good to pass; the marriage would bring riches to Bayford’s land. Despite the red-flags, this is a no-brainer.

After a somewhat sweet meet-cute with the prince — and Queen Isabelle’s strange cold demeanour with Lady Bayford — Elodie weds the next day, and she is promptly taken to another ominous ceremony.

Elodie is to be one of the three royal blood sacrifices to the last dragon in the world (voiced with quite a bit of ham by Iranian-American actress Shohreh Aghdashloo). The dragon, boiling with eternal rage, seeks these sacrifices every generation, or it is bye-bye to the land of Aurea.

Elodie, brave as she is, turns out to be a fighter, escaping the dragon while figuring out the reason for the dragon’s seething anger. The reveal isn’t that original… nor is Damsel, for that matter; it is easy, and easily dismissable, viewing though.

Screenwriter Dan Mazeau’s screenplay (he wrote Fast X and Wrath of the Titans) is mostly satisfied with its connecting-the-numbers approach. The story flows, sequence to sequence, with boring predictability, and just as boring direction by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (he directed 28 Weeks Later and Intruders).

Damsel, therefore, is kept afloat by Millie Bobby Brown’s verve, who also serves as the executive producer. The young actress is Netflix’s darling for a reason; her Enola Holmes movies (which she also produced) — where she plays the spunky young sibling to Henry Cavill’s Sherlock Holmes — are about as successful as her rise-to-fame series Stranger Things.

Despite Winstone’s and Wright’s combined charisma’s — trivia alert: this is their reunion after Beowulf, another fantasy film about evil dragons — the film belongs to Mille Bobby Brown, and not the dragon, or its backstory, or the idea of female empowerment which, by the way, the film flaunts to a degree.

Damsel tries to shoehorn strong messages about women in the story, but because of the dud direction and the unimaginative-screenplay, they never become obnoxious enough to sully the mood of adventure — as fleeting as that mood is. Still, that’s a win for the audience, if you ask me.

Streaming on Netflix, Damsel is rightly rated suitable for ages 13 and over. The film runs for an hour and 50 minutes that go by quickly enough

Published in Dawn, ICON, March 24th, 2024

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