Director Joachim Trier told us that after his drama film Louder than Bombs he wanted to make something more abstract. As such, he decided to create a surreal horror film that would allow him a greater visual freedom. Thelma certainly had the potential to become psychedelically weird, though I’m not sure Trier really stretched his legs in his new territory.
Thelma is a young girl at college. She’s studying science and living on campus away from her controlling religious parents. One day she experiences an epileptic fit accompanied by some strange phenomena around her. A girl quickly rushes to her aid. Over time the two grow close and develop feelings for each other. But as Thelma begins exploring her freedom something dormant is awakening which she may not be able to control.
It’s easy to draw parallels between Thelma and other supernaturally powered coming of age stories like Carrie or Ginger Snaps. The sexual aspect to the awakening of tremendous powers has been explored before. What differentiates Thelma is its restraint. For the most part the film is content to tell a tale of a girl trying to explore the world. The supernatural aspects become more important as the film progresses but never stray too far from the real.
The performances are all very natural and quite understated, which works in the films favour. Eili Harboe is very convincing in her yearning and fear. She plays the role shyly and never betrays the character even as she becomes more powerful.
Thelma is an engaging horror film with some interesting concepts and great performances. It is however perhaps a little too understated to make full use of its concept. It certainly wasn’t as provocative as Raw which told a similar story of surreal sexual awakening. But those able to appreciate a subtle character study with horror elements will find an earnest film with a lot to recommend it.
4 / 5
Paul Salt is the co-host of One Good Thing.