Director: Joachim Trier
Cast: Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelsen
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“I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” Thelma (Eili Harboe) isn’t the first young adult to say that on screen. But what’s wrong with her isn’t like other people. What’s wrong with her involves uncontrollable twitching, and packs of ravens flying into windows.
A supernatural thriller might sound like a strange move for Joachim Trier (Louder than Bombs and Oslo, August 31st), but the Norwegian director is perfectly at home in what emerges as a subtle coming of age piece.
Eili Harboe delivers a wonderfully tender performance as the eponymous enigma, raised by her ultra-religious family to believe in repentance – so when she goes to university, and she forms a burgeoning bond with classmate Anja (Kaya Wilkins), the spiral of excitement she feels soon tumbles into a sea of guilt. With that sexual and emotional awakening, meanwhile, comes the stirring of a strange power that seems to give her control over the people and the world around her. Is she imagining it? Is she going crazy? Is she having divine visions? Or is it something more sinister?
The result is stunningly shot and sensitively handled, with screenwriter Ekil Vogt blending shades of De Palma and Hitchcock but never breaking out into explicit horror or gore: this is a film of repressed passion, quiet pleasure, barely whispered harm, and visually dazzling set pieces. Trier weaves spiritual symbols into the dark flashes of anxiety, and Harboe is fantastic at capturing the naivety of a sheltered upbringing and the anger of someone mocked by others for their convictions. Throughout, fiery flashbacks to forgotten childhood memories (a striking contrast to the clinical environment where scientists try to trigger a seizure) piece together a portrait of a young person struggling to breathe after years of suffocation at home. Poetically understated and chillingly balletic, Thelma is disturbing, beautiful and entirely absorbing.