Damsel Reaches for Greatness but Comes Out Lacking

Dept. of Dames and Dragons


The damsel in distress trope has always been tired. It’s one of those tropes that belong either to a more repressive time, or a very well-written story. Even if its inverse — the “Strong Female Character” archetype — is becoming as overdone as it is disappointing, at least there’s something to grasp from it. And yet, while there are definitely things to bite your teeth into in Damsel, it never ever seems to be enough.

The film follows Elodie (which means foreign riches, ironically), who is the princess of a struggling kingdom. When a marriage offer from a well-off land comes in, she and her family sail off to make the marriage happen for the better of their people. The union quickly turns sour though, when it’s revealed that the marriage is a sham and she’s just one of three sacrifices made every generation to a dragon living inside a mountain. 

Millie Bobbie Brown has proven time and again that she’s a great actor. She’s deeply committed to her roles and generally knows what to do with the material she’s given. In Damsel, she does a good job of being believably angry, determined, and terrified as a princess who’s been betrayed and whose will to live is her only way out. This film, along with the Enola Holmes movies, provide a clear trajectory to the kind of career she wants to have, which, one can assume, is to be a modern action star. Though, in her efforts to get there, there are obviously going to be missteps, and this movie may be one of them. 

Now an okay movie is fine. An okay movie can sometimes be entertaining in its own way. But an okay movie that has the potential to be so much more is tragic and especially frustrating. And there’s just something that makes Damsel fall short of greatness. Or several somethings, honestly. 


The film somehow feels like it was made for the cinema, and yet made no effort to be cinematic. It features sweeping landscapes, beautiful sets, and a CGI dragon that genuinely looks good. Looking at it, you could surmise it was promised for big screen distribution — but it’s the small details that take away from that. An easy example is how at any point in during the movie, Brown looks far too perfect for someone who’d been chased and literally burned by a dragon at every turn. Why did she look so spray-tanned even if she lived in a cold, starving nation? Why were her lips painted a glossy pink when she was trying to prepare for a confrontation with a deadly creature? The special effects makeup ends up looking like special effects instead of actual injuries — even if Brown does her best to sell it. 

You never feel like she’s ever in any real danger either, no matter how injured she gets — which ends up giving the film shallow stakes. While this is something we’ve come to expect from a Netflix feature, there are nevertheless so many pieces of the puzzle that point to how they wanted to create something epic from this. Which makes watching Damsel at any deeper level an exasperating experience. Netflix just couldn’t let go of the overly polished and clean shine they are known for, and suffered for it.

The shedding of Elodie’s wedding gown throughout à la Samara Weaving in Ready or Not feels like a great comparison in this case. It tries to tear into something great, to create something subversive and interesting, and while there’s no fault in its result, it feels too pretty to have really done what it set out to.  (The only thing that was surprising about it was the violence — there was a minute amount of blood and gore, which funnily, is something to take joy in.)


Damsel is not a terrible film by any means. Not at all. It does what it needs to get done, but just feels too safe in the end. Topics and themes hang over the plot like bait luring in fish, but then get pulled away before you can hold on to it. What this movie could have been was perhaps something that should have gone to a different studio altogether. It could have been a film that explores the sinister use of young women as bargaining chips, with of one of those women defying a destiny that many still suffer. It could have been a movie that’s gritty and suspenseful in meaningful ways, that leverages its star power to make something great. It’s in there somewhere, in the writing that alludes to the fact that Brown’s character only survives because of the women that came before her, that she comes out of it only because of the circumstances that make her a hero. But, it’s still just a Netflix film, so they can’t risk it with the grime it deserves.

In the end, Damsel is a film you watch with your friends when you want to chat over the slower parts, or to enjoy alone when you don’t want to watch anything too challenging but still want a bit of fun. Lower your expectations and it’s an easy, fun, and simple experience. And hey, the dragon is pretty cool.

Damsel is now streaming on Netflix.

Zahra is probably asleep right now as you read this. When awake, they enjoy gushing about the things they love like coming of age films, k-pop girl groups, and Ms Marvel, among others. Armed with a MA in Film Studies and a penchant for overthinking, they've got all the tools to tell you why they think the curtains in a scene are blue. (It's a symbol for sorrow, dammit!)

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