Thelma (4 stars)

Thelma

Beguiling supernatural thriller featuring a standout turn from Eili Harboe

This beguiling, expertly-crafted slice of Scandinavian psycho-noir opens with a subtle yet shocking sequence which effectively sets the tone for things to come. A man and a young girl stalk the snowy Norwegian landscape, the atmosphere between them as icy as their surroundings. The man trains his weapon on a young deer and then, in one fluid motion, points it at the back of the girl's head.

That he doesn't shoot is made clear in the next scene, when the now adult Thelma (Eili Harboe) starts a new life at university. It's an awkward independence; the shy Thelma doesn't make friends easily, not least because of her difficult relationship with her controlling Christian parents. She also suffers violent seizures, which have a strange effect on nearby electricity and animals. When she meets fellow female student Anja (Kaya Wilkins), the igniting of secret desires sees these episodes grow in frequency and strength.

Comparisons with Brian De Palma's thematically similar Carrie are unavoidable, particularly in its explorations of religious oppression and sexual awakening, but Joachim Trier (Louder Than Bombs) shapes Thelma with a well-defined cultural identity. Shot in muted tones, Norway's untamed beauty reflects the character's own wild nature, a side of herself that becomes increasingly difficult to hide.

Trier and co-writer Eskil Vogt shed this story's myriad layers in a careful, considered way, adding in dreamlike flashback sequences which augment the film's hypnotic atmosphere. Horrific moments which reveal the true nature of Thelma's gift are effective but not overused; instead, the devil is in the smaller details, like a strand of hair caught inside the glass of a window, or a swarming flock of birds.

In the lead role, the striking Harboe (The Wave) is exceptional, initially imbuing Thelma with an affecting vulnerability that marks her out as a victim of circumstance. When she embarks on her journey of self-discovery, however, this gives way to a confident self-awareness, as she realises what her parents have always known, and feared: that she is capable of being both miracle and monster.

Limited release from Fri 3 Nov.

Thelma

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • Norway/France/Denmark/Sweden
  • 1h 56min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Joachim Trier
  • Cast: Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelsen
  • UK release: 3 November 2017

Thelma (Harboe) is a shy student who, when she falls in love with fellow student Anja (Wilkins), discovers that she has fantastic powers. Expertly crafted slice of Scandinavian psycho-noir with an exceptional performance from Harboe as the vulnerable Thelma, who discovers she can be both miracle and monster.

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