Joachim Trier’s unexpected foray into genre territory recalls the films of M. Night Shyamalan and Brian De Palma’s Carrie, giving the tale of a girl with weird powers an icy Scandinavian mood and a slow-going pace which feels like a walk in deep snow.
Thelma is a genre-bending mystery drama running the gamut between horror and sci-fi. Thelma is equally curious as a character, too. She’s dorky, but this outward appearance hides a malice lurking beneath the surface of her prim personality and that, while she has no real understanding of her powers, she is growing more and more aware of the liberating (and selfish) possibilities they might provide. As well as the comparison to Stephen King’s breakout novel and subsequent big screen adaptation, there are also hints of the Hulk’s anger issues and The Twilight Zone episode ‘It’s a Good Life’ in Trier’s latest.
Trier might not be setting up a stall as the next master of horror, the film is far too subtle for bursts of Grand Guignol shock, but he does have a knack for inventive weirdness and nightmarish imagery. Whether that’s strands of black hair bizarrely caught in a large pane of glass, fluttering in the wind outside and dangling on the inside, as if somebody has passed through the window without it breaking, or a man in a rowing boat engulfed in a ball of flames, forced to drown because every time he resurfaces into the open air he magically alight again. Eili Harboe is excellent in the lead role and the love story between Thelma and college friend Anya (Kaya Wilkins) trembles with pained longing, gentle hesitance and conflicted emotions caused by a devout religious upbringing and general teenage confusion.
Phillip Larkin was right – it’s your mum and dad that fuck you up. Instead of treating their miracle child with love and affection, they decided to control every facet of her life out of a mix of terror and bitter resentment. Thelma emerges in the end as a rebel with a cause – to break free from the shackles of her stifling parents and find herself in the wide world and maybe some semblance of happiness. Yet Trier hints throughout at darker things, such as Thelma’s potential capacity to become a monster and threat to the world.
Martyn Conterio | @Cinemartyn