Original title:Damsel
Director:Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Running time:107 minutes
Release date:08 march 2024
A young princess is forced to marry the ruler of a rival kingdom. She discovers that during the harvest season, the kingdom practices a strange ritual. They sacrifice their princesses to a hungry dragon. This year, she falls prey...

Mulder's Review

Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and starring the charismatic Millie Bobby Brown as Elodie, Damsel takes viewers on a journey that promises to subvert the archetypal damsel in distress, presenting a story that blends elements of suspense, horror and empowerment in a medieval fantasy setting.

Damsel introduces us to Elodie, a young woman from a poor kingdom who finds herself betrothed to Prince Henry of Aurea, a prosperous but secretive kingdom. This marriage, however, turns out to be a front for a dark and ancient ritual that involves sacrificing the kingdom's princesses to a dragon to keep the peace. The story unfolds as Elodie, initially a pawn in a game orchestrated by patriarchal figures, is transformed into a figure of resilience and defiance.

The film's main strength lies in its ability to subvert expectations. The premise may sound like a fairy tale, but Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and his team deftly pivot the narrative into a survival thriller, in which the princess must not only save herself, but also confront the systemic injustices of her world. This shift serves not only to heighten the tension, but also to enrich the film's thematic framework, addressing the sacrifices women are expected to make for the greater good. Following this film, we get the impression that 

Millie Bobby Brown delivers a nuanced performance as Elodie, deftly embodying her character's vulnerability and indomitable spirit. Millie Bobby Brown's transition from compliant noblewoman to survivor and warrior is portrayed with a convincing blend of physicality and emotional depth, making Elodie a character that resonates with the audience's interests.

However, it's Shohreh Aghdashloo's vocal performance as the dragon that truly elevates the film. Shohreh Aghdashloo imbues the creature with a complex blend of menace and melancholy, creating a character both fearsome and, unexpectedly, sympathetic. This nuanced portrait challenges the binary schema of good and evil, inviting the audience to consider the dragon not just as a monster, but as a being with its own history and grievances.

Juan Carlos Fresnadillo demonstrates his mastery of visual storytelling, drawing on his experience in the horror genre to imbue the film with a sense of suspense and dread. The use of shadows, tight spaces and the gradual revelation of the dragon all contribute to creating an atmosphere that keeps audiences on the edge of their seats. In addition, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's direction ensures that the film's feminist undertones are perfectly integrated into the narrative, avoiding any didacticism and instead showing Elodie's growth and challenges.

The film's photography complements this direction, with stunning images that juxtapose the bleakness of Elodie's predicament with the lush beauty of the imaginary world. The visual effects, particularly the depiction of the dragon, strike a balance between the fantastic and the terrifying, making the creature a central figure in both the story and the film's visual spectacle.

Damsel tackles themes of empowerment, sacrifice and the questioning of traditional gender roles within a patriarchal system. By centering the narrative on Elodie's struggle for survival and autonomy, the film criticizes the notion of women as passive recipients of fate. The dragon also serves as a metaphor for the systemic challenges women face, illustrating the complexity of fighting against a system that sees them as expendable.

The film also touches on the idea of solidarity and collective struggle, when Élodie discovers the fate of the princesses who came before her. This element adds a layer of depth to the story, emphasizing that the struggle against oppressive structures is not a solitary one, but one shared by several generations.

Damsel stands out as a convincing reimagining of the medieval fantasy genre, marked by strong performances, captivating storytelling and a thoughtful exploration of feminist themes. Although it draws on familiar tropes, the film succeeds in offering a fresh and provocative take on the genre. Millie Bobby Brown shines as Elodie, bringing to life a character who embodies strength, resilience and complexity. Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's direction ensures that the film is not only a visual delight, but also a profound and meaningful story. The film stands out as a significant contribution to the genre, offering not only entertainment but also a reflection on the roles we ascribe to women, both in stories and in society. It's a film that challenges, entertains and, in the end, leaves audiences with plenty of food for thought.

Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Written by Dan Mazeau
Produced by Joe Roth, Jeff Kirschenbaum
Starring Millie Bobby Brown, Angela Bassett, Robin Wright, Ray Winstone, Nick Robinson, Brooke Carter, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Cinematography : Larry Fong
Edited by John Gilbert
Music by Jane Antonia Cornish
Production companies : PMCA Productions, Roth/Kirschenbaum Films
Distributed by Netflix
Release date : March 8 2024 (France, United States)
Running time : 107 minutes

Viewed on 06 March 2024 on Netflix (press screener)

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