Adventure Movies

‘Damsel’ review: Millie Bobby Brown vs. dragon in rousing Netflix adventure

March 7, 20243 Mins Read

Millie Bobby Brown finds herself in a different kind of Upside Down in the Netflix Original fantasy adventure film “Damsel,” a fractured fairy tale with more than a few dark twists.

There’s some pretty gruesome violence as well, so I can’t exactly tell you this is a fun-filled thrill ride for the entire family. However, for anyone old enough to handle the PG-13 “sequences of strong creature violence, action and bloody images,” this is a well-photographed and rousing tale, with the “Stranger Things” star doing fine work as the fiercely determined heroine, and a deep and talented group of familiar faces in key supporting roles.

After the Obligatory Prologue pitting king and knights against dragon, the story jumps to “CENTURIES LATER … IN A FARAWAY LAND,” but we’re still in vaguely defined ye olden times, where the plucky and resourceful Elodie (Brown) and her adoring younger sister Floria (Brooke Carter) live with their father, Lord Bayford (Ray Winstone), the king of the land, and their stepmother, Lady Bayford (Angela Bassett).

Their homeland is a harsh and frozen and unforgiving place, and the entire kingdom is at peril — so the King agrees to marry off Elodie to the Prince of Aurea, which is a thriving paradise with “carriages of gold,” as the King puts it.

“We need this,” he tells his daughter, who is horrified at the idea of marrying some stranger. “[If we don’t accept this offer], we will not make it to the thaw.”

Looks like we’re sailing off to a wedding! With location filming taking place in Portugal, director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, cinematographer Larry Fong and the production and VFX teams render some truly stunning visuals. When the Bayford clan arrives in the gorgeous and lush land of Aurea, they’re greeted by the stately and commanding Queen Isabelle (Robin Wright), and Prince Henry (Nick Robinson), the handsome and seemingly charming young fellow who is to become Elodie’s betrothed.

SPOILER AHEAD EVEN THOUGH IT’S IN THE TRAILER AND THE ADVANCE PUBLICITY MATERIAL: After the idyllic wedding, Henry explains to Elodie that they are to participate in a centuries-old family ritual, and it doesn’t exactly involve pushing slices of wedding cake into each other’s faces. Henry takes Elodie deep into the dark and forbidding mountainside, where dozens of locals wearing “Eyes Wide Shut” type masks look on as Henry literally throws Elodie off a bridge and deep into a cave. Every generation, the royal family makes a sacrifice to a ferocious dragon to pay off a debt, and so much for a honeymoon for Elodie.

From that point forward, “Damsel” is like a stylish slasher movie, with Elodie desperately trying to avoid being fire-bombed by the dragon, who is voiced by Shohreh Aghdashloo, and you either go with the talking dragon deal or you don’t. Elodie must rely on her wits and her grit to outmaneuver the relentless and quite clever dragon, and perhaps uncover some long-buried secrets along the way. With Millie Bobby Brown delivering inspired and strong work as a dragon-fighting Final Girl, this is one “Damsel” who doesn’t need anyone to rescue her, thank you very much.

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