Directed by Joachim Trier
Starring Elli Harboe, Kaya Wilkins
Norwegian director Joachim Trier is a young filmmaker to take notice of, having now followed up his rather excellent dramas Oslo, August 31st and Louder than Bombs with something that’s a little more arthouse and a little more genre orientated.
The title character (Elli Harboe) is a shy and reserved young woman who is just starting college, which sets her away from her religious and slightly domineering parents – however, there’s good reason for them to be concerned about her. As Thelma becomes closer to the friendly and approachable Anja (Kaya Wilkins) and starts falling in love with her, certain worrying symptoms make her suspect she has epilepsy, but the symptoms are linked to a strange and supernatural condition that’s being exacerbated by her new-found love.
Thelma does thrive more on chilling scenes of tension, whether slow-burning or erratic, which makes it closer to a thriller than a horror, though these moments are stunningly directed, with such precision as to mine the most amount of tension possible from even the smallest of supernatural sequences. Trier manages to yield some spectacularly slick moments of cinematic wonder, whether in the snowy outdoors or the intricate indoors, moments of which are tinged with horror imagery reminiscent of other chilly Scandinavian horror films like Let the Right One In.
What also works in favour of these thriller/horror aspects is how much the romance is intertwined with them, as the dangers of Thelma’s supernatural state become greater when she gets closer to Kaya. As effective and as focused as this bizarre romance is to begin with, the film does start to lose the plot towards the end as there doesn’t seem to be as much urgency as there should be with some of Thelma’s more worrying supernatural traits. The film manages to pick itself up just before it finishes and it ends with one spectacular sequence after another, but it still seems to be confused and not entirely resolved with all its loose ends.
It’s a little unfortunate that this slip up towards the end negates some, but certainly not all, of the promise Thelma has, though it still stands as an effective and thoughtful combination of romance, thriller, and horror. Supported by the impeccable directorial style, Thelma is a satisfying experience for audiences who are after a moody and substantial piece of work rather than just frights and scares.
Thelma plays at UWA Somerville from Monday, 5 February to Sunday, 11 February, 8pm, and at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tuesday, 13 February to Sunday 18 February, 8pm.