This was originally reviewed on 16/10/17 as part of London Film Festival.
It seems that in horror or particularly dark dramas surrounding teenage girls, the visual metaphor of hunting (normally, with one’s father) is a particularly popular trope. Just look at Stoker and Split, both of which use the hunt to suggest that something is really wrong within their worlds. Thelma uses similar imagery, but subverts our expectations before cutting to a jarring, flashing title screen. The first half of the film is an inventive, cinematic exploration of the clash of religion and desire along with other general teen angst – so it’s incredibly disappointing when the film abandons all ambiguity and opts to fill out a backstory that doesn’t feel all that crucial.
In the excellent first half, Thelma is studying Biology at university in the city. During a study session in a library, she has a violent seizure of unknown origin, during which some unnatural stuff happens with birds. We eventually find out that Thelma has had a religious, god-fearing upbringing, which complicates her borderline obsessive crush on fellow student Anja.
During her struggle with her feelings, her devout, god-fearing Christianity comes into play in several uncomfortable hallucinations, often featuring a snake (guess who it is). These continue to great effect throughout the film, viscerally portraying Thelma’s inner turmoil. However, the film slowly becomes less focused as it attempts to establish some kind of logic to her abilities, creating a backstory that’s only to the film’s detriment. Even if some of the shots it leads to are genuinely terrifying, it begins to feel less unique.
Thelma is visually and sonically impressive, with images that linger in the mind long after the film has ended, but a superfluous narrative detour strips the film of any uniqueness. That’s not to say it’s Norwegian Carrie, but it’s basically Norwegian Carrie.
CAST: Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelsen, Ellen Dorrit Petersen
DIRECTOR: Joachim Trier
WRITERS: Joachim Trier, Eskil Vogt
SYNOPSIS: A woman begins to fall in love, only to discover that she has fantastic powers.