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By now, it’s safe to assume that most people are familiar with the damsel in distress trope. Once upon a time, there was a meek young woman, usually a princess or royal of some sort, trapped in a castle. Sad, alone, and defenseless, she waits atop her tower/prison for a prince to come and save her, whisking her off to her happily ever after. This is the fairy tale dream we’ve been selling to children for centuries, telling girls to wait around for a strong man to come and save them. But who needs a man to save them? Sounds like it’s time to re-write the narrative, which is exactly what Netflix is aiming to do with its newest dark fantasy film, Damsel.

Directed by Juan Carlos Fersnadillo (28 Weeks Later and Intruders), Damsel is written by Dan Mazeau who previously wrote 2012’s Wrath of the Titans and the more recent Fast X from The Fast and the Furious franchise. The film features Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown as the princess who must fight for her life. Joining her are Angela Bassett, Robin Wright, Ray Winstone, and Nick Robinson. While Damsel isn’t unique in its subversion of the familiar trope, it is perhaps one of the most enjoyable films of the genre. 

[Warning: spoilers from Netflix’s Damsel are below!]

Elodie’s about to be neck-deep in trouble

As the eldest daughter of the King (Ray Winstone), Elodie (Millie Bobby Brown) is used to a certain level of responsibility. Her life isn’t like the one we’d typically picture in our heads when we think of far-off kingdoms and royalty. Her kingdom is poor, so her life isn’t lavish, instead, she’s out there working for her people, attempting to keep them afloat while everyone waits for a miracle. This instills in her a deep sense of duty to both her family and her people, which means she’ll do just about anything to help. 

Which is exactly what Queen Isabelle (Robin Wright) is counting on. A queen of a distant land proposes a joining of the two kingdoms through the marriage of Elodie to Prince Henry (Nick Robinson). The marriage comes with a ton of riches, which would largely benefit the King and his kingdom. There’s more gold than he can possibly know what to do with, practically making the offer impossible to refuse. Not that Elodie would deny her father this, as she knows it’s what’s best for everyone involved.

Damsel Netflix
Elodie (Millie Bobby Brown). Damsel (Netflix).

What Elodie doesn’t know is that Queen Isabelle and her family harbor a dark secret, which spans back generations. A sacrifice must be paid to the fearful dragon who lives in the nearest mountain, which just happens to be Elodie. Thrown down the steep shaft to her death, Elodie vows to get out. She’ll need her nerves and wits to survive, but hey, she’s not your typical damsel. She’s not giving up without a fight.

The positives and negatives of Netflix’s Damsel

As stated above, this flip on the common trope isn’t unique to just Damsel. Something is entertaining about taking a story or structure that we know so well and changing it to showcase the ridiculousness of it. Look at Wicked for example, the story is something so many of us know intimately, but the musical decides to look at The Wizard of Oz from a different angle. This is one of my favorite subgenres, as what we’re seeing is familiar, but different enough to remain exciting. All that to say, while this type of film is not uncommon to see, Damsel is one of the better ones I’ve had the privilege of watching.

Damsel has all the makings of a fantastic adventure film. The writing by Mazeau is engaging, Damsel has actual structure, with lore and motives that go deep. You get a good idea of the villains as well as the heroes. It dances in the gray middle ground for many characters, while also clearly having a protagonist and antagonist. There are moments where you root for someone and hate them in the next moment. They are complex, which is a sign of great writing.

To say I was mildly shocked that Mazeau also wrote Fast X, which is one of the weakest films in the franchise, is an understatement. But it just goes to show that people shouldn’t be judged for one film, as their talents might shine in a different setting and story.

Damsel Netflix Millie Bobby Brown
Elodie (Millie Bobby Brown). Damsel (Netflix).

Millie Bobby Brown continues to prove that she’s a true talent, with an exceptional performance as Elodie. Brown has shown time and time again that she’s leagues above so many her age in her chosen craft, and Damsel is no exception. She portrays Elodie as graceful and fierce, holding no bars when it comes to surviving in the most extreme of circumstances. Like so many other characters, Elodie is dynamic and multidimensional. She’s clearly the heroine, but she’s so much more than that. She shows fear and doubt, she shows compassion and bravery. She’s unflinching in her loyalty and kindness, but there’s a badass side that refuses to quit. Elodie is easily one of my favorite portrayals of this trope, similar to Joey King in The Princess.

Robin Wright is also fantastic as Queen Isabelle. She’s reminiscent of her character of Claire Underwood from House of Cards, set in a fantasy world. She’s cruel, but in an “ends justify the means” type of way. She wants to protect her people and family, which is the perfect foil for Elodie. It’s a similar feel to Snow White and the Evil Queen, but in a reality in which Snow White fights back. Wright remains at the top of her game, creating another iconic performance that people will be talking about for a long time.

On the flip side, some of the characters feel underdeveloped, or the actors feel underutilized. Top of the list is Nick Robinson’s Henry, who feels like he deserves a redemption arc that was beginning to form before the film ends. I wanted more from him, he’s a great actor, especially when he gets the right part. However, Henry is a bit flat, lacking some of the dimensions that others in the film have. Joining him was Lady Bayford, played by Angela Bassett. Who casts Bassett in a role and doesn’t give her everything to work with? She’s one of the best in acting at the moment and should have had a larger role in which to play. 

Final thoughts on Damsel starring Millie Bobby Brown

Overall, I thought Damsel was a great film and one I look forward to watching a few times more. While some actors aren’t used to their full potential and some characters are flatter than others, there’s enough nuance and a well-developed story to keep me entertained. Brown and Wright are two powerhouses that create some dynamic parallels in which viewers will easily get lost in.

Damsel releases on Netflix on March 8. Do you plan to watch this movie? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord!

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Brian Kitson

Working hard to bring you the latest news and thoughtful analysis of all things nerdy!

Brian Kitson has 366 posts and counting. See all posts by Brian Kitson