Capsule Review: Damsel (2024) – Millie Bobby Brown’s Committed Performance Elevates the Otherwise Typical Revisionist Dark Fantasy

It’s Millie Bobby Brown vs the dragon in Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s Damsel, marking the Spanish director’s return to feature filmmaking since Intruders thirteen years ago. He is, of course, best known for his work in the zombie horror 28 Weeks Later.

But before we get to that versus part, the first 30 minutes begin with a generic stretch including a brief prologue of the king of Aurea (Matt Slack) and his soldiers facing the dragon in a cave. Cut to centuries later in a “faraway land”, we are then introduced to Elodie (Millie Bobby Brown), the eldest daughter of Lord Bayford (Ray Winstone). She has a younger sister Floria (Brooke Carter) and a stepmother (Angela Bassett), who loves her like her own daughter. But Bayford’s kingdom is in a dire financial situation and the only choice Elodie’s father has is to marry his daughter to Prince Henry of Aurea (Nick Robinson).

And so, they set sail for the Aurea castle and meet the prince’s parents, Queen Isabelle (Robin Wright) and King Roderick (Milo Twomey). Everything seems fine at first during the wedding preparation until Elodie’s stepmother begins to suspect something is off. She tries to convince Elodie to call off the wedding but her stepdaughter insists anyway.

Then comes the ancient ritual in a cave, where it ends with the unsuspecting Elodie being tossed down into the darkness of an underground lair. From there, the movie shifted its focus to a gritty, survival-thriller mode. The injured Elodie is clearly on her own with no outside help whatsoever as she faces an angry dragon (voiced by Shohreh Aghdashloo).

Damsel is the kind of anti-fairytale movie where Elodie isn’t your garden-variety, damsel-in-distress type of princess waiting for someone to rescue her. Of course, such a revisionist take on the dark fantasy genre is nothing new. But it does help to have Millie Bobby Brown on board because she’s the reason that made this otherwise familiar movie watchable. She reportedly did all her own stunts, making her transformation from a lovely princess to a survivor trying to stay alive at all costs an engaging character arc. Her committed, physically demanding performance is impressive to watch regardless of her numerous close calls outrunning the fire-breathing dragon or battling the beast with a sword.

Credits also go to costume designer Amanda Monk for creating Elodie’s beautiful, yet highly functional wedding dress. The dress isn’t just for aesthetics as we see how Elodie improvises by making good use of her dress for survival’s sake. For instance, at one point, she tears off one of her dress’s puffy shoulder parts and uses it as a makeshift lantern of sorts filled with blue glow worms to illuminate her path.

The special effects, particularly the computer-generated dragon blend well with the practical sets of the underground lair, which is reportedly filmed in London’s Troubadour Meridian Water Studios without relying heavily on green screens. This helps elevate Elodie’s ordeal with a genuine sense of stakes and tension.

Although Millie Bobby Brown steals the show here, Shohreh Aghdashloo does a good job pulling off the sinister voice of the fearsome dragon while Robin Wright nails the role of a wicked and scheming queen. The rest of the co-stars, however, notably the usually reliable Ray Winstone and Angela Bassett are given less room to shine in their otherwise underwritten supporting roles.

Damsel is currently streaming on Netflix.