‘Damsel’ distresses audiences with its mediocre story

By Katlynn Rossignol

In “Damsel,” the new dark-fantasy film from Netflix, Elodie Bayford agrees to marry a wealthy prince to save her starving country only to be thrust into a fight for survival. The kingdom has hidden a terrible secret within its mountain and sacrifices her to the beast inside. Only by using her cunning and bravery can Elodie escape the deadly caverns and enact justice. 

The Bayfords are welcomed by Auria’s royal family


Elodie, played by Millie Bobby Brown, shines as the main character. Every scrape and injury was believable and Millie conveyed the pain in every moment. The stunt work was impressive and was used tactfully to showcase the cavern’s fantastical environments. Shohreh Aghdashloo’s voice work, paired with a great monster design, brought the film’s imposing dragon to life. Other cast members included Ray Winston and Angela Bassett as Lord and Lady Bayford, Brooke Carter as Elodie’s little sister Floria and Robin Wright as the foreboding Queen Isabelle. The art direction was also well executed, providing enchanting and dangerous caverns, a vicious dragon and fairytale costumes. There were many great examples of color theory being used, especially in the applications of reds, golds and blues. 

While multiple themes were introduced, a prominent one was that of parenthood and what it means to be a mother or father to children. Without delving into spoilers, one introductory example is that of Elodie’s stepmother and her new mother in law. One tries to warn her, while the other plans to sacrifice her. This theme is demonstrated with many other characters during the film and their examples of parenthood. Would you sacrifice your life for your child, or sacrifice your child for your life? 

Elodie explores the Dragon’s caverns


The pacing of the introduction was slow and spent far too long in the wealthy kingdom of Auria. Since the trailers made the film’s premise clear, there was no need to linger so long in building the twist. This caused some tonal whiplash as well with the introduction written and filmed like a fantasy romance, only to have the plot flip into a thriller. As a result of this, the adventure begins 35 minutes into a film that’s less than two hours long when Elodie finally enters the caverns. The film would have benefited from sticking to its thriller moments and showing more hunting scenes in the mountain.

I also think Elodie would have been received better as a protagonist if the film had embraced being a thriller. While I enjoyed Elodie’s journey for survival, the rest of her personal arc was negligible at best. The story worked to transform her from a damsel in distress into an impressive warrior, but it’s questionable whether or not she actually earned it. She never needed to grow, since she was already a well-read puzzle solver with athletic endurance and strength. The only thing she actually needed was motivation and a sword. If the film had focused on Elodie’s survival in the caves, there would have been time for her to learn those skills during the film’s runtime instead of being great at everything before it even starts. 

While the theme of parenthood was executed clearly, I had to question the film’s final message of morality. In the end, the writers clearly chose a side on who was morally justified for their actions, but I would ask that viewers question the finale and the justification of all parties involved. When the dust settles, has the right party survived?

Elodie fights to escape the Dragon


I grew up reading alternate fairytales with damsels overcoming the odds and flipping tradition on its head. “Damsel” didn’t use the wit, intrigue or self awareness I had hoped for in this type of genre reversal. Elodie started off as a strong protagonist willing to marry for her kingdom and ended as a strong protagonist willing to kill for her kingdom. I would love to watch a warrior princess that inspires awe for her courage and ingenuity, and “Damsel” got so very close, but ultimately missed the mark at the end. 

Combining the failures of Elodie as a character with the tonal whiplash and shaky morality, “Damsel” fails to deliver a truly great film. Instead, we’re left with a ‘just-okay’ film to pad out the Netflix catalog until someone does the anti-’damsel in distress’ trope right. It’s serviceable for a movie night with friends, but I wouldn’t write home about it. 

“Damsel” is available to watch on Netflix

Katlynn Rossignol is a sophomore Strategic Communications Major and A&E writer for Cedars. She loves arts and crafts, spending time with friends and watching superhero movies.  

Images courtesy of Netflix

1 Reply to "‘Damsel’ distresses audiences with its mediocre story"

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    Harriet April 3, 2024 (8:03 pm)

    Despite the drawbacks of the film, I did rather enjoy it.