Magazine article Screen International

'Damsel': Sundance Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Damsel': Sundance Review

Article excerpt

Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska star in this revisionist western

Dir/scr: David Zellner & Nathan Zellner. US. 2017. 113mins

An amusing doodle of a revisionist Western that slowly accrues unexpected resonance, Damsel finds filmmakers David and Nathan Zellner hitting upon a better balance between the jokey and the poetic than their previous feature, 2014’s Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter. Throwing darts at genre conventions while honouring what is eternally mythic about the milieu, this comedy-drama draws off-kilter performances from Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska that subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) reframe archetypes and consistently set us back on our heels.

The writing-directing brothers refuse to let viewers take any genre tropes for granted, constantly upending our expectations about who these characters are and what they’re capable of doing.

Premiering at Sundance, Damsel looks to be a more commercial offering than the brothers’ earlier films, thanks largely to the presence of Pattinson and Wasikowska in the cast. But the movie’s Western trappings may also help with accessibility, although unsuspecting audiences may be baffled by this oddball film that’s neither a parody nor an homage.

Damsel stars Pattinson as Samuel, a well-to-do young man who has travelled many miles on horseback to reunite with his lover Penelope (Wasikowska), aided by a drunkard (David Zellner) who claims to be a minister who can marry them. But as Samuel prepares to reach his destination, new information is revealed that complicates his romantic rendezvous.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter was a quixotic road movie in which the Zellners self-consciously applied a deadpan sense of humour to a young woman’s globetrotting, potentially heartbreaking quest to find a treasure that may not even exist. Damsel has its own share of peculiarities, including a twisty narrative filled with spoilers that shouldn’t be revealed here. But let it be said that the writing-directing brothers refuse to let viewers take any genre tropes for granted, constantly upending our expectations about who these characters are and what they’re capable of doing.

At first, the film seems to be little more than a cheeky riff on the Western’s high, lonesome solemnity, with cinematographer Adam Stone shooting the Utah locations in beautiful widescreen to emphasize the grandeur of this untamed countryside. …

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