Joachim Trier’s (Louder Than Bombs) surreal and sombre Scandi thriller follows Thelma’s (Eili Harboe) first weeks of freedom away from her stringently religious parents. Painfully reticent at first, she is soon taken under the wing of Anja (Kaya Wilkins), a girl who introduces her to a life of partying and unlocks her repressed lesbian desires.
All the while Thelma keeps suffering from inexplicable seizures which mysteriously seem to cause dramatic changes in the environment.
Both Harboe and Wilkins give nuanced unaffected performances, but in truth neither the characters nor the plot particularly capture our imagination. After all, we’ve seen countless films about adolescent alienation, conservative parents, self discovery and the various joys and perils of alcohol and sex.
But what makes Thelma different from those coming-of-age tales, and what keeps us watching, is that it’s a piece of superbly atmospheric filmmaking. Trier establishes a profoundly unsettling slow-burning tension from the off (although it admittedly builds up into something of an anticlimax) through some uniquely haunting camerawork which masterfully fuses together reality with nightmarish fantasy.
It’s a film full of individual scenes which are nothing short of stunning. An opening flashback sequence in which Thelma’s father momentarily points a rifle at the back of his infant daughter’s head while out hunting is one of the most breathtaking intro scenes in recent memory.
We later find out what motivates him to consider killing his own child, but the film largely shifts from a brooding, esoteric chiller into a more generic supernatural horror story once the compelling ambiguities start to be addressed with some clunky explanations.
Thelma is at once mesmerising and bereft of a central purpose needed to hold it all together. It may disappoint a little as a narrative film, but as a purely visual spectacle it’s something of a small masterpiece.
|What||Thelma film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
03 Nov 17 – 03 Nov 18, TIMES VARY
|Price||£ determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more information|