UK Release Date: 26th February 2018
Runtime: 116 minutes
Director: Joachim Trier
Writer: Joachim Trier, Eskil Vogt
Starring: Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelsen, Ellen Dorrit Petersen
Synopsis: As a Christian woman begins to experience temptation and new love at college, she is plagued by seizures that seem to trigger supernatural events.
Last year brought two European movies that saw young women discover hitherto unknown urges and powers while studying at university. The first of these was Julia Ducournau‘s blistering cannibal horror film Raw, which was one of the most interesting entries in a remarkable year for the genre. Meanwhile, from Norway, arrived Joachim Trier‘s supernatural thriller Thelma. Although it received predominantly positive reviews, the film flew under the radar in comparison to Raw. It’s now out on Blu-ray in the UK and the time has come to see if it stacks up to its French-Belgian comrade.
Trier’s film is a mesmeric experience, with the tone of a wistful dream, punctuated by intense flashes of all-consuming strobe lighting. In the leading role is the quietly compelling Eili Harboe, whose title character is a Christian struggling with the temptations and opportunities for sin provided by her new college experience, conveyed via nightmarish visions of a serpent slithering on her body. After a dead bird hitting a window seems to trigger a seizure in the study room, Thelma befriends classmate Anja (Kaya Wilkins). They soon become firm friends and develop a tentative romance.
The first act of Thelma is the slowest of slow builds, gradually introducing supernatural concepts and ideas to this dreamlike approximation of college life. The romance between the two protagonists is nicely played and Harboe does clever work in portraying the twin emotions of fear and excitement that power her through her attraction to Anja. Unfortunately, it’s all a little too stately, with the audience forced to wait a very long time before any sort of explanation.
When it finally arrives via Thelma’s fundamentalist father Trond (Henrik Rafaelsen), the explanation for the supernatural events is ripe with intrigue. There are, however, huge gaps left in the audience’s understanding of what has happened and Trier fails to make very much of his interesting concept, never digging below the surface of the implications of what Thelma is able to do. This is in stark contrast to Raw, which takes plenty of time to dig its teeth into the central horror conceit of its story.
Ultimately, for all of its patient storytelling and the nub of intrigue at the heart of its premise, Thelma falls short as a result of haphazard execution. It squanders the potential of its central idea and, were it not for the very watchable performances, it would be an exhausting trudge of a first hour and a half. The narrative turning point creates considerable potential for a thrilling denouement, but what follows lacks that crucial final punch.
A smattering of interviews with those involved, but rather sparse for a Blu-ray release.
Pop or Poop?
Despite an admirable and brave approach to its storytelling, Thelma leaves its audience feeling unfulfilled and short-changed after two hours of watching the narrative unfold with methodical patience. Eili Harboe is a very solid leading lady, but Joachim Trier falters in the execution of his tale.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Thelma is available on Blu-ray in the UK now, courtesy of Thunderbird Releasing.