Review: ‘Damsel’ is full of numbing, nonstop repetition

Millie Bobby Brown sets us straight instantly in her new movie “Damsel” with her opening voiceover as the fiercely independent Princess Elodie: “There are many stories of chivalry where the heroic knight saves the damsel in distress. This is not one of them.”

Amen to that, though I guess it’s not very chivalrous of me to report that “Damsel” — for all its ringing endorsement of female empowerment — is not one of those movies you can’t afford to miss.

Despite its “Princess Bride” vibe, “Damsel” turns dark and dreary way too fast.

Brown, 20, has only grown in the talent, beauty and smarts that made the British actress a star on “Stranger Things” and “Enola Holmes.” But the bride she plays in “Damsel” is hardly headed for a fairytale happy ending. Her honeymoon plays more like an episode of “Survivor.”

As written by Dan Mazeau and directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, “Damsel” starts with a disarming sweetness. Elodie is the dutiful daughter of Lord Bayford (Ray Winstone) and stepmom Lady Bayford (Angela Bassett, shortchanged by an underwritten role).

PHOTO: Angela Bassett in a scene from "Damsel."

Angela Bassett in a scene from “Damsel.”

John Wilson/Netflix

Elodie and her younger sister Floria (Brooke Carter) do what they can to help the poor in their struggling land. That’s when Lord Bayford negotiates a lucrative deal to marry off Elodie to handsome Prince Henry (Nick Robinson), whose scheming mother, Queen Isabelle (Robin Wright), has a nasty trick up her puffy sleeve.

It seems that every generation the rulers of the lush kingdom of Aurea must sacrifice three princess brides to the fire-breathing dragon living in a mountain cave.

PHOTO: Millie Bobby Brown and Nick Robinson in a scene from "Damsel."

Millie Bobby Brown and Nick Robinson in a scene from “Damsel.”

John Wilson/Netflix

Elodie’s next on deck. She’s barely said “I-do” to the prince, who’s a real tool, when he picks her up and hurls her into the rocky cave for dragon snack time. Suddenly, the swoony fantasy the romantics among us were hoping for turns into a PG-13 horror show for the torture-porn crowd.

Look, I’m all for subverting the sappy cliches of the genre. Wright, who starred as the real Princess Bride 37 (gulp!) years ago, looks thrilled to transform into the queen of pain. She’s even more sadistic than the dragon, who is voiced with throaty menace by the great Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo and proves to be a more sympathetic character than the queen.

We soon learn that the dragon seeks vengeance on this kingdom of elitist snobs for slaughtering her three baby cutiepie dragons centuries ago. The queen and her ancestors keep sending virgins to their deaths to maintain — what? — a posh lifestyle?

Where “Damsel” really loses its juice is in spending more than a hour of screen time watching Elodie try to outwit the dragon in caves so dim and desolate you can barely see anything.

There are glimmers when the dragon breathes fire and an army of glow worms, who are definitely on Team Elodie, serve as temporary flashlights. But mostly we’re stuck in the muck.

PHOTO: Millie Bobby Brown in a scene from "Damsel."

Millie Bobby Brown in a scene from “Damsel.”

John Wilson/Netflix

This puts a ton of pressure on Brown. Except for the chatty dragon, she valiantly carries the second part of the film on her own, running a gauntlet of overly familiar movie obstacles in an artfully torn wedding dress.

“Damsel” left me in distress from its numbing, nonstop repetition. It’s never a good sign when you watch a movie thinking, “When will it ever end?”

First appeared on

Leave a Comment