Norwegian thriller Thelma, from director Joachim Trier, is an insidious mystery about religion and youth, tinged with the supernatural and droplets of horror. Raising an ominous, expectant atmosphere of high-strung, phantasmic episodes and searching shots of nature, this movie may twist viewers in their seats, but won’t have them up all night replaying the tape.
In a wonderfully nuanced performance, Eili Harboe plays beautiful yet unassuming Thelma. Leaving the hinterlands of Norway for Oslo University, she has difficulty adjusting to this new age away from the nest. Socially diffident, her only contact is with her overbearing, staunchly religious parents (Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Henrik Rafaelsen) via the confessional of a telephone. When Thelma has a seizure in the study hall, it is clear that something of the past lurks persistently. When she meets Anja (Kaya Wilkins) and falls in love for the first time, makes friends, drinks and smokes, the seizures and hallucinations get worse, and we discover a malignant power broiling within her, over which she is not in full control. Exploring the psychological effects of oppressive religious faith, the repression of homosexuality, sensuality and the flesh, the psychosis of hellfire and brimstone, Trier weaves a dynamic and compelling story of intrigue regarding lost lovers, forgotten grandmothers, and vanishing infants. There are multiple horror tropes, which seem to nod to classics of the past, whilst religious iconography provides visual weight and interpretational provocations. Well-acted characters are revealed in their complexity as we uncover past traumas and consequential actions.
However, at times, the 116-minute composition lags as we await the next pocketed paroxysm of strobing claustrophobia. Similarly, the culmination is somewhat anticlimactic, resulting in fresh ambiguities and slightly tousled ends. The blurring of genres seems irresolute, resulting in disorientation as we traverse an uncertain palette. Whilst intriguing and enigmatic, Thelma verges on the obscure, and fails to penetrate and to plant its lingering spores.
Thelma is released nationwide on 3rd November 2017.
Watch the trailer for Thelma here: