Monkeys Fighting Robots

The Zellner brothers’ Damsel is a whimsical take on westerns which is so far removed what audiences are accustomed to, it distracts from beautiful cinematography and standout moments in the film.

Don’t expect to walk into Damsel witnessing a narrative reminiscent of any number of John Ford’s classics which ignited a generation’s interest in the genre. While the storyline of his westerns was more reminiscent of what audiences loved, there comes the point when those involved with production can get too cute. Damsel desperately wants to stand out from other films, but in the Zellner brothers’ quest to do so, they lost sight of their primary goal of creating something entertaining.

Mia Wasikowska in DAMSEL, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The film centers around Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattinson), who is out to rescue Penelope (Mia Wasikowska) from her alleged kidnapper. Alabaster is driven by desire and longs to be with his one true love. As he closes in, it becomes apparent that having backup will be crucial if he’s to rescue Penelope successfully. Alabaster hires Parson Henry (David Zellner) who spends most of his time finishing bottles rather than learning scripture. They set out together to find Mia, along with a miniature horse named Butterscotch. However, what seems like a classic tale of rescuing a damsel in distress becomes something much different.

Mia Wasikowska in DAMSEL, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The Zellners’ narrative is contrived and full of plot points which are, quite frankly, unnecessary. It’s fairly obvious they wanted to take commonly known Western tropes and flip them on their head. Then why must we spend sixty percent of the film focused on the parson’s proclivity for drinking? Was it necessary to make the town folk just over the top versions of what we’ve seen in other releases? Damsel spends a great deal of the film trying to establish Pattinson’s character as a sympathetic figure and then throws it all away in a five-minute span. Why not just start with the perceived “damsel” being the heroine from the get-go? There comes a point when it becomes too much. Damsel is focused on creating “original” content at the expense of compelling material.

Adam Stone’s cinematography was something that stood out most from Damsel. Stone’s images focused on capturing the natural beauty surrounding these individuals living miles from civilization. The film had countless shots of the foliage, the lush green fields surrounding their cabins, and close shots of any animal they encountered.

The Octopus Project’s music stoked images of a forgotten past and a genre once adored by all. However, even the best musicians can’t overcome mundane performances in what amounts to a meandering tale. Perhaps it was the source material or the direction? Whatever the issues might have been, Damsel does nothing to elicit any recommendation and should be avoided entirely.

Production Design
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.
review-damsel' Damsel' shouldn't even be on your radar as a film you should see.