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Damsel Review

by Daniel Reynolds
1.0 out of 5.0 stars

Is dragon-rendering technology getting better these days? That’s where my mind went during the interminable Damsel, a film that seems to exist only as a visual effects jobs program. Good for the crew doing that work, I guess.  For director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and the rest of us, however, we’re left with a tale of medieval fantasy that’s thinner than the parchment paper onto which it was never written.

Admittedly, that last bit is not true: parchment or not, Damsel was written by Dan Mazeau, who could not have known how the dragon in his script would turn out, yet wrote his dragging, humourless story this way regardless. In support, and during her increasingly awkward transition to grown-up roles, Millie Bobby Brown stars as Elodie, the eldest daughter in a struggling family from a so-called “faraway land.” After a prologue set centuries prior, her father (Ray Winstone, who gets to wear armour) arrives with news: Elodie is to be married to a royal prince. So, the family, including a stepmother (Angela Bassett, sure why not) and younger sister (Brooke Carter), head to a castle (more—albeit different—CGI, obviously) to embrace their future. This is just a long and tedious pretense though; the film truly begins when Elodie is sacrificed to the dragon, voiced by Shohreh Aghdashloo, and is forced to survive, escape, and defeat the mythical beast. Since none of the characters have much else to say or do that means anything, we’re left with Brown’s limited range and the clunky suspense of her stand-off with this digital monster.

What Damsel does try to amount to (laughably) is a basic message in favour of female empowerment—women can slay dragons too! Who was saying they couldn’t? Myths and fantasy stories, I suppose. But then: who cares? To give this film some weight would have meant putting effort into anything besides finely rendering those dragon scales. Fresnadillo doesn’t do that, the script surely doesn’t, and Brown can’t. No happy ending can fix that.

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