'The Shamer’s Daughter': Palm Springs Review

Courtesy of Danish Film Institute
A rousing adventure tale.

Danish director Kenneth Kainz’s feature is a medieval fantasy featuring a resourceful young heroine.

While the concept of a telepath who shames transgressors into adopting socially acceptable behavior seems somehow European, as a narrative device it’s more broadly beguiling, as evidenced by Kenneth Kainz’s The Shamer’s Daughter (Skammerens Datter), a Scandinavian adventure adapted from Danish author Lene Kaaberbol’s Shamer Chronicles YA novels.

Dedicated fantasy fans willing to relinquish expectations for a female-driven Harry Potter experience may find themselves unexpectedly delighted by the film’s fairly well-grounded semi-realism, while average moviegoers will discover more than enough thrills to fulfill youthful expectations. And with sales to multiple territories, viewers worldwide will be able to appreciate a film that domestic audiences have already endorsed; opportunities for some type of remake will not likely be ignored either.  

Known as "the shamer," the young widow Melussina (Maria Bonnevie) and her three children live a difficult life, shunned by the residents of Dunark kingdom because of her supernatural ability to see into people’s souls and and make them ashamed for their transgressions. Her eldest daughter Dina (Rebecca Emilie Sattrup) has inherited the same ability, which represents a significant burden of responsibility for a young teen girl. While shaming isn’t a particularly employable trait, it’s useful for dealing with malefactors attempting to conceal their actions, which is why Dunark’s presiding judge summons Melussina after most of the royal family is murdered right within the castle walls. The king’s son Nicodemus (Jakob Oftebro) is the prime suspect, but Melussina declares him innocent, as does Dina when she’s also called upon to pass judgment.

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Accused of witchcraft and tossed into separate dungeons because of their disinclination to cooperate with a burgeoning conspiracy, Dina is thrown together with the imprisoned Nicodemus, who manages to engineer their escape, although they’re forced to leave Melussina behind. With the crown prince’s illegitimate half-brother Drakan (Peter Plaugborg) determined to usurp the throne while the kingdom remains in disarray, it’s up to Dina to help prove Nicodemus’ innocence and rescue Melussina from execution before Drakan releases the castle dragons to consume her.

Although genre purists may be quick to label the The Shamer Chronicles series as a sword and sorcery mini-epic, this first installment in a planned three-episode franchise is much more grounded in both physical and emotional reality. Perhaps more akin to a classic adventure tale with fantastical elements, it favorably recalls the swashbucklers of old, particularly those with a royalist bent. 

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Either way, it’s a major challenge for a teen actor to carry such an ambitious feature, but young Sattrup demonstrates a level of equanimity beyond her years, as well as a distinct affinity for action-oriented material. Comparatively speaking, Plaugborg as the half-prince is the only adult in the cast who can keep up with her, sustained by a steady diet of addictive dragon blood. Perhaps Oftebro will figure more prominently in the plot of upcoming sequels as he attempts to attain the throne, but he’s mostly sidelined as a fugitive on the run in this episode. Bonnevie faces a similar fate while imprisoned in the castle dungeon for much of the movie.

Screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen (Susanne Bier’s 2010 Oscar winner In a Better World) resists the inclination to aggrandize the narrative, keeping the action focused on Dina’s rapidly escalating obstacles and her resourceful response to repeated setbacks. There’s an abundance of heroine’s-journey significance associated her coming of age tribulations, but Jensen judiciously avoids laying it on too thickly. Embedded with life lessons about responsibility, self-reliance and loyalty, the film should also satisfy adult expectations for worthwhile YA entertainment.

Kainz may well establish an internationally recognizable reputation if he remains attached to the series for the foreseeable future. His interpretation delivers an inventively realistic representation of medieval European life, creatively re-purposing historic Danish, Icelandic and Czech locations that minimize CGI requirements. Which is fortuitous, since the SFX are the film’s weaker suit. After The Lord of the Rings series and countless other fantasy films, our expectations concerning animated dragons exceed what The Shamer’s Daughter is initially able to deliver, but it’s a shortcoming that additional talent and budget should well be able to resolve with future installments.

Production company: Nepenthe Film
Cast: Rebecca Emilie Sattrup, Jakob Oftebro, Maria Bonnevie, Peter Plaugborg, Soren Malling
Director: Kenneth Kainz
Screenwriter: Anders Thomas Jensen
Producers: Nina Lyng, Eva Juel Hammerich
Director of photography: Lasse Frank
Production designer: Waldemar Kalinowski
Editor: Nicolaj Monberg
Music: Jeppe Kaas
Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival
Sales: TrustNordisk

Not rated, 96 minutes 

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