Damsel Review: A Grim Fairy Tale Beautifully Unraveled

Damsel (2024).

In an era where the lines between classic fairy tale narratives and dark fantasy blur, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo‘s Damsel emerges as a poignant reflection on strength, sacrifice, and survival. Scripted by Dan Mazeau, the film carves out a unique space in the realm of dark fantasy cinema, embellished by an outstanding ensemble cast including Millie Bobby Brown, Ray Winstone, Nick Robinson, Angela Bassett, and Robin Wright. At its heart, Damsel is a story about the indomitable spirit of a young woman caught in the teeth of ancient tradition and supernatural danger.

The plot revolves around Elodie, portrayed with remarkable depth and resilience by Millie Bobby Brown, a young noblewoman who steps into a nightmare veiled as an honor. Set to marry Prince Henry (Nick Robinson) in what appears to be a dream come true, the narrative quickly pivots into a dark tale when she learns that her destiny is not as a princess but a sacrificial pawn. The film is a rollercoaster of emotions, anchored by Brown’s performance, as she encapsulates both the vulnerability and fortitude of Elodie. Her transformation from a sheltered girl into a formidable survivor forms the crux of the movie, earning the audience’s empathy and admiration with each turn of the plot.

Fresnadillo’s direction ensures that the narrative pace keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. He masterfully blends moments of tranquility with sheer terror. The director’s knack for creating atmospheric tension is palpable. It makes the ancient and mystical elements of the story come alive in a way that is haunting. The setting within the dragon’s cave, where a significant portion of the story unfolds, is rendered with such detail that it becomes a character in its own right, embodying both the terror and wonder of the unknown.

The screenplay by Dan Mazeau is tight and well-crafted, offering fresh twists on the conventional ‘damsel in distress’ trope. By centering the story around Elodie’s agency and cunning, Mazeau challenges the audience’s expectations. He delivers a narrative that is both empowering and thought-provoking. Dialogues are crisp, carrying weight and wisdom, particularly in the interactions between Elodie and Lady Bayford, played by Angela Bassett. Bassett brings a dignified ferocity to her role, providing a complex foil to Elodie’s innocence and determination.

Supporting performances add richness to the film’s fabric, notably Ray Winstone as the menacing Lord Bayford. Also Nick Robinson, who infuses Prince Henry with a nuanced vulnerability that transcends the archetype of the fairy tale prince. The chemistry between the cast is palpable. It elevates the emotional stakes and drawing the audience deeper into the tale’s grim yet enchanting world.

Cinematography by Larry Fong is another highlight. It captures the stark contrast between the opulence of the noble life and the eerie beauty of the dragon’s lair. The score enhances the film’s tension and emotional depth.

Despite its many strengths, Damsel is not without its shortcomings. The pacing is uneven, especially in the second act, lingering too much in the cave scenes. While these moments are critical for character development, a tighter edit could have maintained the story’s momentum more effectively. Additionally, some may find the film’s dark themes and intense sequences overwhelming, though they are integral to the narrative’s impact.

Damsel stands out as a darkly beautiful exploration of strength in the face of unimaginable trials. The film is a compelling entry in the dark fantasy genre with stellar performances, especially from Millie Bobby Brown. It resonates deeply with its empowering narrative, rich character development, and striking visuals.

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  • Acting - 8/10
  • Cinematography/Visual Effects - 8/10
  • Plot/Screenplay - 7/10
  • Setting/Theme - 7/10
  • Watchability - 8/10
  • Rewatchability - 7/10
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About Caillou Pettis

Caillou Pettis is a professional film critic and journalist as well as the author of While You Sleep, The Inspiring World of Horror: The Movies That Influenced Generations, and co-author of Out of Time: True Paranormal Encounters. He has been writing in the entertainment industry for over seven and a half years professionally. Throughout the years, he has written articles for publications including Gold Derby, Exclaim!, CBR, Awards Radar, Awards Watch, Flickering Myth, BRWC, Starburst Magazine, Punch Drunk Critics, Mediaversity Reviews, Vinyl Chapters, Northern Transmissions, and Beats Per Minute.