Damsel

2 out of 5

Directed by: David Zellner and Nathan Zellner

There’s the seedling of something incredibly promising contained within Damsel, David and Nathan Zellner’s darkly comedic Western about a man – Sam, played by Robert Pattinson – deadset on proposing to Penelope, and dragging along the ‘neophyte parson’ Henry (co-director David) through the forests of the American frontier to do so.  Penelope, played by Mia Wasikowska, is painted as the titular damsel in Samuel’s idealized descriptions to Henry, but the slightly off tone of the film – and some specific interruptions included in our travels across the otherwise peaceful expanse – hint that that picture might not be exactly accurate.

Unfortunately, that ‘hint’ is, to an extent, all we get.  Not that Damsel doesn’t have Samuel and Penelope reconvene, but beyond poking at some gender dynamics, the film absolutely goes no further, wryly smiling while playing out its central conflict in miniature several times.

Adam Stone’s cinematography is frankly gorgeous, with a perfect blend of Earthy tones that are both natural and supernatural at the same time; neither washed out or over-exposed, but not real, it lends a floaty, contemplative nature to proceedings that at least makes the lightweight script play out in a fashion thats easy on the eyes.  The same mix of restraint and passion is true of The Octopus Project’s score, which appreciably opts for era-appropriate sounds instead of the group’s mix of electronica; its occasionally playful, occasionally haunting, and the Zellner’s have a keen sense of when to let their scenes play out in silence.

Pattinson doesn’t quite sell the Western accent, but his take on Samuel is perfect for keeping us on edge as to whether to side with him or not (until the plot takes away that decision) and Wasikowska equally hits the right marks in her long form response to being considered – perhaps to always being considered – a ‘Damsel.’

I can’t say much else because any details would be giving away the slim plottings that make up the film’s 100 minutes or so runtime, but even pared down to a short, I’m not sure there’d be that much to say.

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