It’s hard to deny that Joachim Trier has a bold voice in the modern Scandinavian cinema landscape. Despite his still sparse production – Thelma is only his fourth feature – the Norwegian director and writer already presents a great genre and style variety, a variety so many times absent in directors whose first films reached a certain critical acclaim (on a lazy creative version of “if it ain’t broke”).
Thelma is Trier’s incursion in a supernatural/suspense world, where the first scene – a young girl and her father walk through the snow, in an apparently innocent hunting scene, only to turn into an incredible tense, twisted moment – prepares us, audience, to what’s coming. Thelma (Eili Harboe) starts University, only to find herself inflicted with a strange, epilepsy-style disease. As she starts leaving her extremely protective (and religious) parents out of the loop, behaving like a normal teenager (going out, drinking, smoking), and, worse, falling in love with her beautiful new friend Anja (Kaya Wilkins), Thelma realises she may have a terrible power within her – the power of making her wishes come true.
Much like Julia Ducournau’s Raw, Thelma explores female sexuality as a scary, threatening force, but whereas the animalistic French movie used gore, Trier gives us a surrealist nightmare, exploring the ideas of desire, claustrophobia and repression – Dali would be proud. With the stunning cinematography by Jakob Ihre (Trier’s usual collaborator), Thelma is a feast to the eyes and to the brain. Despite the somewhat weak ending (as the plot thickens it becomes apparent there would never be a satisfying finale for all the threads), the story slowly and masterfully reveals what happened during Thelma’s childhood (that resulted in that very first shocking scene), as the sound mix plays with the audience’s mind. Harboe’s performance as a girl unaware of her real strength (as well as her capacity of hurting other people) is perfect – her apparent fragile and innocent look negotiated against fits of jealousy and lust, in a complex, completely believable portrait of a disturbed and confused teenage girl.
Thelma stands out as a quiet homage to moments in history as women were taken to be either hysterical or witches (depending on the century), and, not exactly being a horror film, it will certainly appeal to fans of the genre. Definitely worth a watch – as not only another interesting variation on the scary teenage female protagonist that has been growing in quality since Ginger Snaps (2000), but also as a powerful, disturbing film on its own right.
Thelma was released in UK cinemas on 3rd November 2017, and is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download via Thunderbird Releasing