Thelma is the most amazing supernatural horror-thriller while also being a coming-of-age story. No wonder its Norway’s Oscar contender.
Thelma is essentially a coming-of-age story. However, in this particular case, it involves supernatural elements that turn the story into a horror-thriller. At the same time, there’s also a beautiful love story at the heart of it all.
Thelma (Eili Harboe) has just begun studying biology at the University of Oslo. For the first time, she’s on her own after having been raised in the Norwegian countryside. We don’t know much about her parents except that they’re clearly very involved.
They call her at least once a day, just to make sure she’s okay. But also, they know exactly when she’s supposed to be in class and ask her about pretty much every detail. It seems almost abusive, but Thelma doesn’t seem to phased by this.
We first meet the parents, when they bring furniture to her new home and go out for dinner. While at the dinner, it becomes apparent that religion is a very big part of their lives.
Of course, the question of evolution versus creation comes up since Thelma is studying biology. Little things like their conversation at the restaurant – and later the same night – tells the audience so much about Thelma’s upbringing.
The horror of falling in love
Thelma is having a hard time finding close friends since she doesn’t drink and tries to be “good” all the time. Basically, she tries to stay out of situations that could lead to her being bad.
Unfortunately for Thelma, falling in love can happen anywhere and at any time. For her, it happens when she meets another girl, Anja, at the University.
Things go from feeling nice and fuzzy (but safe) to very bad and dangerous when it turns out Anja (Kaya Wilkins) is also falling for Thelma. When she first acts on her feeling for Anja – after the other girl makes the first move – her world falls apart.
Watching the confusion and pain of feeling something she simply can’t is heartbreaking in itself. But in Thelma’s case, the heartbreak she feels turns into horrific events.
The chemistry between the two girls is undeniable and I can’t commend the movie enough for avoiding all the usual drama. Eili Harboe (Thelma) and Kaya Wilkins (Anja) are perfectly cast in their respective roles.
This is a very honest story, where one girl has been suppressing not only her feelings but also her abilities.
A modern-day Carrie
It’s nearly impossible not to compare Thelma to Stephen King’s iconic Carrie. The stories themselves are by no means the same, but elements certainly are.
Both were raised with the fear of God instilled in them and both have supernatural abilities. Something which can all too quickly be labeled as witchcraft. Also, fire is involved when someone dies towards the ending. And it’s used in the most diabolic way – and I do mean that in a good way!
However, even if comparison with Carrie is obvious, Thelma herself is very different from the character of Carrie. Thelma is very sure of herself. She knows her worth and knows about the world – and not just from the bible.
For this reason, she literally tries to “pray the gay away” as a first solution. And while all this romantic turmoil is happening, there’s still the issue of her seizures. Very much a physical thing, which also involves electric power surges and crows flying into windows near her.
All very ominous which will lead to a family secret (or rather several) finally seeing the light of day.
Thelma is very Oscar worthy
Thelma has been labeled everything from “lesbian horror movie” to simply “drama”. Neither is very appropriate.
But, of course, the “drama” label is never really un-appropriate since obviously, the movie has drama. And since this movie is Norway’s official Oscar contender for Best Foreign Film, then all talk of horror must be banished – see Under The Shadow for another recent example.
Joachim Trier has made a brilliant movie and could deservedly take home an Oscar for it. Joachim Trier directed Thelma while also co-writing the script with Eskil Vogt. The two have worked together on many movies and never really miss the mark.
Watch out for Eili Harboe!
I cannot stress this enough; Eili Harboe is perfect in the title role of Thelma. She can go from this bright-eyed girl, who believes in everything good, to blaming herself for being bad and evil. And she does it all without being overly dramatic or in any way unrealistic.
Thelma is drama, horror, suspense, mystery, thriller, coming-of-age and so much more. It’s a genre-bender and a perfect storm of a slow-burner. Do not miss this one!
We first saw it at AFI Fest in Los Angeles but jumped at the chance for a press screening in our native Denmark a week later as well.
Watching it again, so many parallels and foreshadowing moments became clear. And honestly, I can’t wait to see it again.
Thelma is still playing at film festivals while also being out in limited (or wide) theatrical release in several countries during November.
Including the US, UK, France, Russia, Sweden, and Denmark. More countries will follow.
There are a lot of flashing lights throughout Thelma. Especially during the title credit and during scenes where a seizure is attempted to be provoked to determine if she’s epileptic.
Director: Joachim Trier
Cast: Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelsen, Ellen Dorrit Petersen
A woman begins to fall in love, only to discover that she has fantastic powers.