Review: Damsel (Netflix)

A year and a half after Hulu's The Princess, a film about a generic fairy tale princess picking up a sword and saving herself, is owned by Hulu, Neflix decided to take on their own version of the trope with Damsel, a film about a general fairy tale princess picking up a sword and...saving herself? Though these two films share similar themes, the primary foe in Damsel is a mythological dragon instead of a greedy conqueror, giving Netflix's take on the overdone plot more of a fantasy feel. However, the sweet taste of magic is as fleeting as the film's promise of happiness to its sacrificial brides. Like The Princess, Damsel is a gritty action flick with little levity. I found The Princess enjoyable enough for what it is, and Damsel, though generic, has its moments as well. The first act is particularly eye-pleasing with breathtaking imagery of castles, gowns, and indulgence in the royal life before the film's visuals and plot plummet into a dark pit.

Elodie is an adventuresome girl living in the village with her father, stepmother, and little sister, Floria. One day, she comes home to learn that her father made an agreement to marry her off to a prince from a kingdom she's never heard of before. Not wanting to cause a family squabble, she goes along with it and is whisked away into a glittering sunlit tower brimming with delicious food, beautiful clothes, and a gentle prince who seems eager to get to know her. It has all the makings of a beautiful fairy tale, but there is an underlying sense of dread behind it even if you haven't already seen the twist revealed in the trailer. The rooms are just a little too bright, the wedding gifts are a little too generous, and the royals are just a little too easygoing. After a lovely wedding ceremony that leaves her little sister in awe, Elodie is taken to a strange blood ritual after which the prince throws her into a dark pit where a fearsome dragon awaits its prey. "Oh, Anna, if only there was someone out there who loved you."

Damsel is entertaining for what it is, but there are far too many similar films for it to be memorable enough to stand on its own. Its opening narration about how this isn't like other stories where the damsel in distress gets rescued is particularly tone-deaf considering that all the princess movies from the past decade have the exact same message. Even the film's "all is lost"/"dark night of the soul" element is exactly the same as the one used during the climax of The Princess. It's a little embarrassing to admit that this script was written by someone who took the same screenwriting program I did when I wrote my princess screenplay. Even the film's official synopsis, which states "she soon realizes that no one is coming and this 'damsel' must save herself," is a blatant lie. It might not be the person you would expect if you haven't watched a film with a female lead since 2004, but someone does come to help bail her out despite the film's strong messaging about women rescuing themselves.

Even though I went in knowing this was a gritty movie about survival, I did find the second and third acts of this film as enjoyable as the first one. After Elodie is tossed into the pit, things get very dark literally and conceptually. Elodie is the only person on screen for a good portion of the film, reducing most of the dialogue to grunts and mutterings to herself as she tries to find a way out of the cave before the dragon eats her for lunch. Even the design of the dragon was rather dark, possibly to account for budgeting issues. Its teeth were its most defining feature while its dark scales and eyes blend in with the background of the cave. Like most modern princess stories, the dragon, which was once a mother, turns out to be misunderstood, and it is up to Elodie to set things straight. It was never explained why it took centuries of countless sacrificial brides for this to happen, but at least everything worked out in the end.

While Netflix's Damsel attempts to offer a fantastical spin on the "damsel in distress" trope, its execution falls flat. The initial allure of a charming prince and a grand wedding quickly unravels, revealing a tired plot twist and a descent into darkness. The film relies heavily on a single character for long stretches, and the "hero's journey" feels derivative of countless recent princess narratives. For those seeking a more original and engaging adventure, look no further than the newly released Sacrificed Hearts multi-author book series. These epic fantasy books promise a refreshing blend of romance, loyalty, and magic, whisking readers beyond the overused themes of Damsel.


Anonymous said…
The Princess (2022) is pretty much a forgotten movie, Anastasia, on the other hand, will always be remembered.
Lisa Dawn said…
I agree! You can't beat the classics by copying and pasting plots that follow an agenda.
PrincessContent said…
I had a blast with this film from beginning to end. Yes, that short narration in the beginning is very corny and very, very unnecessary. I really dislike when fairytale movies does those intros where they say ”this is not that story” or ”this is the REAL, TRUE story”. Just tell your version, we know it will be different.

Anyway, I think this movie had a great balance between the damsel and warrior archetypes. Everything Elodie did felt natural to her character.
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