Damsel (dir. Juan Carlos Fresnadillo)

By: Meghan Winebrenner

Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo invites audiences on a roller coaster ride with his new Netflix fantasy adventure: Damsel. The film takes the classic fairy tale trope of a princess in need of saving and delightfully flips it on its head. Netflix darling Millie Bobby Brown (Enola Holmes, Stranger Things) is forced to overcome her royal aspirations in order to save herself after being literally tossed into a dragon’s den. The young starlet shines as Fresnadillo’s dutiful damsel and demonstrates that though she’s young, she’s no stranger to big budget features. With supporting characters brought to life by the talents of Angela Bassett (Black Panther), Robin Wright (The Princess Bride, Forrest Gump) and Ray Winstone (The Departed), Netflix hits its mark with this exciting and captivating action picture. 

Damsel opens with an ominous scene featuring a king and his knights taking on a brutal dragon, but before audiences can learn the outcome of the battle, the story leaps centuries into the future to a different faraway land. There Elodie (Brown),is struggling to help her impoverished kingdom as it prepares for a harsh winter. When she is propositioned for marriage by a mysterious prince, Elodie and her family travel to meet the illusive royal family that has requested her hand. At first glance Elodie is intrigued by her prospect and a connection is formed with her betrothed Prince Henry, played by Nick Robinson (Love, Simon). The royals seem beautiful, rich, and compelling, but quickly Elodie’s princess fantasy becomes a perilous fight for survival. 

Fresnadillo’s sublime kingdom of Aurea visually captures his audience, and the tension amongst Elodie and her future in-laws is perfectly constructed throughout the film’s opening act. While at first glance it is hard to believe Brown as a princess, the choice feels intentional as Elodie is not the typical lady in waiting. This coming-of-age tale is filled with female empowerment, and Millie Bobby Brown fans will appreciate her performance as she delivers as both maiden and warrior.  What provides Damsel with a welcome layer of intrigue is a puzzle element present throughout.  Elodie’s love of mazes and the mysterious marital traditions of Aurea make the film feel like a whodunit survivalist drama.  In addition, Fresnadillo’s fantasy world masters the art of the antagonist.  Aurea’s royal family proves easy to dislike, and the diabolical dragon is vicious, blood-thirsty, and filled with vengeance.  All are wonderful reminders that in the world of fantasy, villainy can be quite entertaining.    This exciting Netflix adventure is sure to leave fantasy fans and thrill seekers distressed in the best possible ways.  

Target Score 6.5/10: Damsel views like an amusement park attraction.  It provides a fun and worthwhile escape for audiences while solidifying Millie Bobby Brown as a meaningful 21st century protagonist for whom the future seems very bright.