Damsel review: "Millie Bobby Brown puts fire in this survival fantasy's belly"

(Image: © Netflix)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Brown and the beast strike sparks as Fresnadillo’s initially lukewarm adventure gradually heats up.

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Over in Hawkins, Millie Bobby Brown has faced numerous D&D-related horrors. In director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s (28 Weeks Later) survival fantasy, a lone dragon proves equally problematic. True to form, Brown brings conviction to her stand-offs with an impressively realized creature, helping to lift their battle royale above the story’s bullet-point plotting.

Brown plays Elodie, a poor villager whose father (Ray Winstone) and stepmother (Angela Bassett) sell her into royal matrimony for gold. So far, so fairy tale. Yet what fire doth flicker on yonder hilltop? Before she can say "I don’t", Elodie is lobbed into the mountain catacombs as a sacrifice to a savage dragon – but she won’t burn easily.

The slow-burn pacing is more ‘drag’ than dragon initially, as Elodie – kid sis in tow - meets Robin Wright’s wicked queen and Nick Robinson’s charmless prince. The cave settings add a tangible sense of claustrophobia, though Fresnadillo keeps his monster in the shadows a little too long as the murky action simmers.

But when designer Patrick Tatopoulos’ dragon does emerge, she’s revealed as a fiercely agile species offspring, like a weaponized lion with crushing claws, whiplash tail, napalm payload and quite the sadistic voice (delivered by Shohreh Aghdashloo). "Did I hurt you?" she taunts, after scorching Elodie’s leg to a crisp. 

The dragon harbours a solid backstory too, while Fresnadillo’s flame-roasted mix of lunging jump scares and kills with Elodie’s Ripley-esque survival and protective instincts help beef up an undercooked script. And as Elodie progresses from terrified to resourceful to righteously raging, it’s Brown who puts the most fire in Damsel’s belly.

Damsel is streaming on Netflix now. 

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Freelance writer

Kevin Harley is a freelance journalist with bylines at Total Film, Radio Times, The List, and others, specializing in film and music coverage. He can most commonly be found writing movie reviews and previews at GamesRadar+.