Thelma Movie Review
Written by Shane D. Keene
Released by The Orchard
Directed by Joachim Trier
Written by Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt
Released on November 24th, 2017
Elli Harboe as Thelma
Kaya Wilkins as Anja
Henrik Rafaelsen as Trond
Ellen Dorrit Petersen as Unni
When it comes to horror films, I have some geek fetishes that I embrace, always with passion and sometimes with a little bit of a guilty pleasure in that I find myself wondering if anybody else could possibly enjoy this shit as much as I. Those leanings, to name a few, include Giallo, road-trip horror such as the amazingly violent and fun 68 Kill, revenge porn in the vein of The Horseman, and most of all, foreign movies that tend to be low budget and lean more toward the arthouse style of production where the story, characters, and cinematography take precedence over fancy CGI effects and jump scares.
One such film in that final fetish category that I’ve had the huge pleasure of experiencing lately is the deeply brooding, intensely sensual coming-of-age story, Thelma. It’s the tale of a young Norwegian woman away at college who begins to have extreme, unexplained seizures and learns that they are a symptom of a dark and dangerous supernatural gift or curse that has been passed down through the women in her father’s family. She finds herself falling in love with Anja, a young woman who comes to her aid when she has her first seizure and then later befriends her and helps her to feel welcome in her new environment. But it’s a forbidden relationship to her hyper-fanatical religious father, Trond, and she’s tormented by her own ingrained belief that what she is feeling is somehow sinful.
This movie works on so many levels that I could go on talking about it for five thousand words if I thought I could hold your attention for that long, but I promise I won’t do that to you. Instead, let me point out the few things really stand out. First of all, I love low-budget foreign films that focus on human interaction as their vehicle of choice for storytelling. The amazing Korean breakout, Train to Busan, is one such masterwork in which they didn’t have a lot of cash for fancy effects and CGI, so they blew their load on the people. It’s a fact with any form of fiction that, if it’s done well, the characters drive the story and the reader or viewer is made to relate and to love or hate them.
Thelma is a simply phenomenal example of what I’m talking about. It’s a slow, sexy, super quiet psychological horror that explores themes of love, loss, religion, and fucked up families, managing to do so without ever becoming trite or preachy in the process, and the two young women, played by Elli Harboe and Kaya Wilkins, are nothing short of perfect in their roles, as is Henrik Rafaelsen in the role of Thelma’s father, Trond. He’s an exceptionally ambiguous character that comes off at first as a concerned, stern, but loving father but starts to quickly show signs of being a power-lusting, controlling son of a bitch. And as Thelma discovers more details about her ability and the past that’s been hidden from her, she finds herself inadvertently committing horrific and seemingly irrevocable acts, causing her father to reveal himself for the rotten prick he really is.
In the end, it’s hard to figure out how much to actually say about this film. It’s hard for me not to rave on and on about this amazingly flawless work of Norwegian artistry, but it would be easy to tell you too much. Suffice it to say, Thelma is a girl with powers of potentially apocalyptic scope and, if she were to let loose, she would make Carrie White look like a kitten by comparison. Her story is told with such incredible attention to detail, character, and setting, presented with an Argento-like flair for sound and lighting and more than a little reminiscent of Lucio Fulci in doling out clues to the mystery that is Thelma. If you like your horror quiet, brooding, and jam-packed with existential dread and gorgeous cinematic storytelling, this is the movie you’re looking for. Five stars because we don’t have a ten star image in our archive.