View Mobile Site

Related Articles

Friends to Follow

Movie review: Quirky Sundance Western 'Damsel' flips conventions but falls flat at the end

Text Size: Small Large Medium
Movie review: Quirky Sundance Western 'Damsel' flips conventions but falls flat at the end

Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson appear in “Damsel,” by David Zellner and Nathan Zellner, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

"DAMSEL" — 2½ stars — Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, David Zellner; not rated, probable R for brief graphic male nudity and intermittent violence and profanity; Sundance Film Festival

“Damsel” is a beautiful and quirky comic Western that wants to turn the genre on its head, but once those conventions are flipped, the film just doesn’t have much else to say.

Featured at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the movie opens with an enigmatic encounter that, like many other scenes in “Damsel,” greatly benefits from a gorgeous southern Utah setting, where two men are at a remote outpost waiting for a stagecoach.

One is a preacher (Robert Forster), headed home after a failed attempt to bring the word of God to the rough-and-tumble Old West. The other, Henry (David Zellner, who co-wrote and directed the film with his brother Nathan), is on his way to the West Coast, still mourning the death of his young wife and looking for a new start in life.

After some ponderous conversation, the preacher gets tired of waiting for the stagecoach, strips down to his long johns and marches off into the desert, leaving his belongings at Henry’s feet.

Cue the opening titles.

This odd opening sets the tone for the strangeness to come. We meet a young man named Samuel (Robert Pattinson), who claims that his wife-to-be Penelope (Mia Wasikowska) has been kidnapped by a local named Anton Cornell (Gabe Casdorph) and his brother Rufus (Zellner’s brother Nathan). He sets out to rescue Penelope, accompanied by a miniature horse named Butterscotch and Henry, who has apparently been masquerading as a preacher since his encounter in the film’s opening scene.

Henry doesn’t know about the kidnapping — he thinks he’s only coming along to marry the happy couple — and when Samuel finally clues him in on his plan, things steadily go from bad, to worse, to ridiculous, to tragic.

It’s a little difficult to go further without exposing the film’s primary plot twist, but suffice to say, Penelope isn’t exactly a damsel in distress, and in the aftermath of her encounter with Samuel, the film’s characters and its audience are both tossed into the S.S. Now What? with no obvious destination in sight.

On the plus side, “Damsel” has a dry quirkiness that colors every character in the film aside from Penelope — in other words, all the male characters — in a stark shade of goofy. The Zellner brothers also directed the recent “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter,” but at times, “Damsel” smacks of another recent Sundance entry: 2016’s “Swiss Army Man.”

The film also just looks gorgeous. In addition to the exotic Goblin Valley opener, we spend time on what appears to be the rocky Oregon coast before zeroing in on the forests of aspens around Park City, Utah for the bulk of the film.

Unfortunately, the stunning vistas and oddball sense of humor aren’t quite enough to save “Damsel” from running out of gas on the way to its finish line. The setup is great, but the finish just feels too empty.

“Damsel” is not rated, but would likely draw an R rating for some intermittent violence and profanity, as well as brief graphic male nudity (played for comic purposes); running time: 113 minutes.
  • Bookmark and Share

SUBSCRIBE to the Statesboro Herald print edition or online e-Edition and get EXCLUSIVE news and information online with complete access to all complete stories on Now you'll have Soundoff, Local Birth Announcements and columnists like Jan Moore, Phil Boyum, Roger Allen, John Bressler and Holli Bragg. Also, Letters to the Editor, Local Editorials and many new exclusive items will all be there just for you! And, when you're away from home, you can read the paper page by page anywhere, anytime from your computer with your subscription.


SUBMIT A COMMENT encourages readers to interact with one another. We will not edit your comments, but we reserve the right to delete any inappropriate responses.

To report offensive or inappropriate comments, contact our editor.

The comments below are from readers of and do not necessarily represent the views of The Newspaper or Morris Multimedia.
Registered user log in to post comments. Or Register for an account to post comments.

No comments have been posted. Log in or Register to post a comment.

Please wait ...