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Millie Bobby Brown is no stranger to running from nightmarish creatures. The 20-year-old Netflix starlet has faced off against the Demogorgon, Godzilla and can now add a fire-breathing dragon to the list. Brown leads Netflix’s latest fantasy flick “Damsel” as Elodie, a girl plucked out of her small, impoverished village to enter into a marriage of convenience with Prince Henry of Aurea, played by Nick Robinson.

Building the World

The deal seems too good to be true — Elodie’s village would receive gold from the kingdom, and all she needed to do was get to know the prince and follow through with the marriage. Warning signs are subtly introduced on the journey to Aurea, where Elodie’s family travels through dark fog illuminated by hyper-realistic dragon statues with fire in their mouths. As day breaks, the breathtaking kingdom scenery is revealed and the foreboding dragons are quickly forgotten by the family. It’s hard to create a compelling fantasy film without visuals that transport the audience into the realm, and “Damsel” certainly delivers on that front. From ornate palace passageways to vast gardens, the scenery proves to be the perfect backdrop for Elodie and Henry’s relationship to blossom.

The film’s costuming is nothing short of stunning, led by “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” costume designer, Amanda Monk. In one scene, Brown puts on a dress layer by layer to create a masterful golden look, and it’s clear how much thought went into ensuring the costumes fit the film’s regal aesthetic. Similarly, Prince Henry’s mysterious mother Queen Isabelle (Robin Wright) dons a golden crown made of small sharply pointed daggers. It’s somewhat out of the ordinary for a queen to wear such a violent crown, which is foreshadowing for her viscous character.

Angela Bassett plays Elodie’s stepmother, Lady Bayford, who suspects something is not right with the marital union and raises her concerns to Elodie. Bassett seems a bit out of place in this film with two Golden Globe awards under her belt, and the writing is nowhere near on par with her work in the past. Nevertheless, she has a compelling chemistry with Brown — not quite a mother but more of a fierce protector. It’s clear to see where Elodie gets her bravery from.

Millie Bobby Brown is no stranger to running from nightmarish creatures. The 20-year-old Netflix starlet has faced off against the Demogorgon, Godzilla and can now add a fire-breathing dragon to the list. Brown leads Netflix’s latest fantasy flick “Damsel” as Elodie, a girl plucked out of her small, impoverished village to enter into a marriage of convenience with Prince Henry of Aurea, played by Nick Robinson.

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Down the Mountain

After the wedding ceremony between Elodie and Henry, the prince leads her up a towering mountain on the outskirts of the kingdom, where they will perform the traditional newlywed rituals of his family. “Damsel” goes from fairytale to nightmare at lightning speed, after Henry throws Elodie into a pit inside the mountain as a sacrifice to the dragon inside. So much for a honeymoon traveling the world together.

As Elodie navigates the grisly mountain underbelly, “Damsel” starts losing the suspense that gave it life in the first act. Elodie faces multiple injuries from her fall, and bolts down twisted paths to escape the fire-breathing dragon. The film now utilizes the survival formula found in others like “47 Meters Down” and “Fall,” leaving Brown to carry the film alone. In an interview with InStyle, Brown discussed how different the experience of filming “Damsel” was because of the isolated situation her character is thrown into.

I had worked with so many huge casts and ensembles, and it’s like being an only child, but being an only actor on this film,” Brown said in the interview. “You’re like, Wait, if I mess up my line, I have to start again. Or if I get sick or hurt, there’s no one that you can fall back on.” 

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Elodie’s Transformation

Luckily, Brown’s star power is enough to keep viewers invested in Elodie’s survival as “Damsel” progresses. She encounters the lost items of previous princesses sacrificed to the fearsome dragon and relies on their guidance to keep moving. At one point, she finds a bioluminescent glow worm cave that breaks up the dark, gloomy atmosphere of the mountain and is very visually pleasing. Soon after this discovery, Elodie begins her transformation from a complicit princess to fearless warrior that commands the second half of “Damsel.”

Elodie ceremoniously rips up her gown and chops off her hair to mark the physical transition that accompanies the internal growth she went through in the mountain. While this may seem a little cliché, Brown’s girl power gusto is more than welcome to breathe life into the dreary setting.

An unsung hero of “Damsel” is composer David Fleming, who worked with the Academy Award winning Hans Zimmer to create the sonic atmosphere of the film. The score matures as Elodie does — bright and vibrant in the beginning, but dark and rich during her battles with the dragon. The musical duo has composed together on other Netflix projects such as “Hillbilly Elegy” and “The Unforgivable,” and it’s clear they’ve found their collaborative sound. The track “Elodie’s Maze” features a solo female vocalist that resembles “Lily’s Theme” from “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2.”

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By the end of “Damsel,” Elodie has faced a gripping journey of survival and fully embraced the strong female lead persona. It’s promising that major streaming services like Netflix are focusing their energy into women’s stories — but for it to be successful, the heroine needs a personality besides fighting for her life. Brown herself has shown this is possible with her work in both “Enola Holmes” films. Enola is quick-witted and courageous, but also has a sense of humor and fun that all young girls should aspire to embrace. Since Elodie barely interacts with other characters besides her family, it’s hard to connect with her. If Netflix and other streamers want to focus on female leads in the future, the characters need to be emotionally well-rounded and empathetic. 

“Damsel” surely has its writing and characterization flaws, but the unique storyline and immersive worldbuilding makes it worth the watch. The ending may leave the viewer with questions, but also a sense of hope for the future of female empowering filmmaking. Brown solidifies herself as a powerhouse in the upcoming generation of young actors and will likely work her way up to major studio blockbusters in the future. 

Cast: Mille Bobby Brown, Nick Robinson, Angela Bassett, Robin Wright

Cinematography: Larry Fong | Editor: John Gilbert

Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo | Writer: Dan Mazeau | Producers: Joe Roth, Jeff Kirschenbaum, Chris Castaldi

By Kaitlyn Murphy

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