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“Damsel” Review: Millie Bobby Brown’s Heroine Redefines Strength, Combating Dragons in High Heels and a Dress

In Millie Bobby Brown’s latest venture as an action hero, the traditional fairy tale wedding takes a dark turn reminiscent of Bluebeard’s trap. However, she proves to be more than capable of handling the challenge.

Damsel. Millie Bobby Brown as Elodie in Damsel. Cr. John Wilson/Netflix ©2023

In Netflix’s refreshing fantasy narrative, “Damsel,” Millie Bobby Brown’s character, Elodie, defies the traditional damsel-in-distress archetype. Rather than being a helpless heroine awaiting rescue, Elodie takes control of her own destiny. In this revisionist fairy tale, she is thrust into a marriage and faced with the threat of becoming dragon food due to an ancient curse. However, Elodie emerges as an action hero suited to our modern, less gender-constricted era. The message is clear: Gone are the days of passive damsels—Elodie proves she can fend for herself.

Elodie, the eldest daughter of Lord Bayford (played by Ray Winstone), initially presents herself as a refined lady, groomed for royal portraits despite her preference for more adventurous pursuits like bow hunting and horseback riding. However, as the story unfolds, she transforms from a prim and proper figure to a battle-worn survivor, facing challenges akin to those in “Die Hard” but with the added threat of a fire-breathing dragon. Despite her trials, Elodie is not a traditional damsel in distress; rather, she embodies the archetype of a resourceful maiden capable of overcoming adversity without the need for rescue.

“Damsel” joins a recent wave of narratives, including Disney’s “Frozen,” Hulu’s “The Princess,” and Netflix’s “Nimona,” that challenge traditional gender roles in storytelling, demonstrating that the adventure genre can be inclusive and empowering for young audiences without being exclusively male-centric.

In its picturesque opening scenes, the film indulges in the typical romantic fantasies. Despite being an arranged marriage, the prince (played by Nick Robinson) is charming, and the wedding dress is enchanting. However, there are subtle signs that all is not well in the kingdom of Aurea, and Elodie’s stepmother (portrayed by Angela Bassett) begins to sense trouble. Her concerns are justified when, on the night of the ceremony, Elodie is whisked away to a mountain behind the castle and thrown into a dark chasm.

At the bottom, she discovers discarded shoes and shattered tiaras—a grim indication of her true destiny. How many brides have met their fate with the dragon over the centuries? In one poignant scene, Elodie finds a safe spot beyond the dragon’s reach, where she stumbles upon a wall adorned with the names of past princesses. These women have left behind a map and shared their experiences to aid future victims. It’s a powerful display of solidarity in this contemporary reimagining of the Bluebeard folktale, a motif that Fresnadillo emphasizes by panning the camera around the cave to reveal the predecessors of Elodie.

While many Netflix productions may appear underwhelming for the small screen, occasionally, a gem emerges boasting an all-star cast, opulent production values, and a commitment to genuine filmmaking rather than mere “content.” “Damsel” epitomizes this traditional approach, even as its message resonates with contemporary audiences. Director Fresnadillo skillfully blends practical and digital effects, immersing viewers in Elodie’s perilous journey without overwhelming them, particularly with the spectacular fire sequences.

Crucially, the success of the film hinges on Brown’s performance, and the “Stranger Things” star effortlessly embodies the resourceful and independent spirit necessary to navigate such an adventure. While the movie initially reveals little about Elodie’s character, her penchant for drawing mazes proves invaluable in traversing the labyrinthine caverns reminiscent of those in “The Goonies.” Armed with only a brass dagger and a filigreed orb, Elodie demonstrates a MacGyver-like ability to adapt and persevere.

In traditional narratives, damsels typically undergo training to become proper ladies. However, Elodie defies this convention, relying on her intellect to unravel the sinister mystery behind the gruesome sacrifices—an interpretation that could symbolize centuries of patriarchal dominance and suppression. “Damsel” presents a delightfully unconventional approach at times, although its adherence to certain codes may feel somewhat contrived, appearing more like a response to a newly progressive corporate agenda rather than a natural evolution. Nonetheless, role models like Elodie are still scarce, and if the film succeeds in altering how young women perceive the term “damsel”—no longer with delicacy, but with determination—then it has made a significant impact.

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