500 Days Of Film Reviews Thelma Starring Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins And Henrik Rafaelsen
Thelma, a shy young student, has just left her religious family in a small town on the west coast of Norway to study at a university in Oslo. While at the library one day, she experiences a violent, unexpected seizure. Soon after, she finds herself intensely drawn toward Anja, a beautiful young student who reciprocates Thelma’s powerful attraction.
As the semester continues, Thelma becomes increasingly overwhelmed by her intense feelings for Anja – feelings she doesn’t dare acknowledge, even to herself – while at the same time experiencing even more extreme seizures.
As it becomes clearer that the seizures are a symptom of inexplicable, often dangerous, supernatural abilities, Thelma is confronted with tragic secrets of her past, and the terrifying implications of her powers.
Is It Any Good?
Within seconds, I knew that I was going to love Joachim Trier’s Thelma. The film opens with a father and his young daughter out hunting in the snow. It is a truly beautiful scene - one straight out of a fairytale. Cinematographer, Jakob Ihre, picks out the red of the little girl’s coat against the stark, white snow.
However, what happens next completely wrong foots us - setting the tone for the rest of the movie. Featuring a superb central performance from Eili Harboe, Thelma is ominous and unsettling, intense and insightful.
At its core, Trier’s movie is a gripping coming of age story (exploring the power of sexual awakening and desire much like Julia Ducournau’s Raw) wrapped in a horror-inflected fantastical mystery.
Oh, and my instincts were correct… I loved this film.
While the horror vibe is strong in Thelma, this is not a film driven by jump scares. Instead, Trier builds a creeping sense of dread as Thelma discovers her supernatural telekinetic powers (reminding me of Brian De Palma’s Carrie - although it is David Cronenberg and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby that the director cites as key influences).
As her powers grow stronger, Thelma doesn’t seek to save the world or fight evil monsters like a character from a superhero movie. No, after a life of repression, her body betrays her, her abilities shock and embarrass her and she wills them to disappear. All she wants is to understand herself, her desires and her place in the world.
As Thelma feels increasingly trapped in her own body, so Trier ups the suspense and claustrophobia. The director often shoots his central character in extreme close-up - forcing us to engage with her, at times terrifying, experiences.
It is so exciting to see a director exploring these female coming of age themes in an empowering (not exploitative) manner - using the freedom offered by the supernatural horror/thriller genre. I, for one, cannot wait to see what Joachim Trier does next.
Is It Any Good?
Have you seen Thelma? (I watched it via streaming service, MUBI.)
If you have, what did you think of this movie? Let me know by leaving me a comment in the section below or get in touch on Twitter (@500DaysOfFilm).