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Thelma ***


Starring: Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelsen, Ellen Dorrit Petersen

Director: Joachim Trier

From Danish director Joachim Trier comes a Norwegian fantasy horror that explores the consequences of repression. The ramifications of denying your sexuality to yourself is known widely to be incredibly damaging to yourself and those around you, but what if you had telekinetic powers too? That’s a recipe for disaster, right?

Thelma (Harboe) has a special ability. Things she imagines just seem to happen. Unable to control her powers as a child with tragic consequences, her parents (Rafaelsen & Petersen) decide to smother their child with religious fervour in an attempt to suppress her abilities. Growing up forgetting these powers even exist, they only begin to come to light again once she is a young adult who leaves home to go to university. There, she meets Anja (Wilkins), a beautiful girl with whom she reluctantly falls in love despite all her religious sensibilities telling her their love is wrong. And as she struggles to reconcile her belief with her sexuality, the powers finally find their way to the surface again.

Horror films have explored complex psychological issues for decades. The genre allows situations to be played out to their greatest extremes and has long been used to take a metaphor and just run with it. Thelma’s powers here are an elaboration of her sexuality; expressed properly, they should be a beautiful thing, but the suppression of them has become incredibly dangerous. Hints are dropped early of just what she’s capable of; birds flying into windows, a large chandelier magnetically drawn toward her in the Osla Opera House, a crying baby vanishing completely for a moment. We’re expecting a Carrie-esque climax in which we get to see the sheer magnitude of these abilities… but it never really comes.

It’s difficult not to compare the film to Carrie in many areas, actually. It follows a similar storyline and features the exact same themes. Thelma’s abilities are suppressed by strongly religious parents who believe that her transition into adulthood is ultimately sinful. Sex, sexuality, alcohol, blasphemy; the list of things forbidden to her is long, but as she explores each, her guilt is crippling. The main difference between the two films however is that where Carrie’s powers come about as her reaction to her mental subjugation, Thelma’s already exist. They don’t represent her bolt for emancipation, they just assist her along the way. The difference is subtle but significant, because due to the revelation of her powers early in the film, the tension is much lower as a result. But this could easily have been rectified with the appropriate climax… but, again, it never really comes.

Essentially, this is a superhero film. It features all the narrative tropes of an origin story; discovery of powers, hiding them from loved ones, brief manifestations of the powers in uncontrolled ways before leading to a climax that shows them at full volume. We want and expect that moment when Thelma embraces what she can do, with chaos littering in her wake. Instead, this final act is somewhat muted. Yes, we see Thelma make some incredible things happen, but these are episodic and fragmented, with the narrative failing to find its stride and give us the peaks that we are expecting or create any sustained tension longer than sixty seconds. In its final scenes it sidles up to the edge, but instead of plunging off, backs away and leaves us with a disappointing segway straight to the denouement.

Just as Let The Right One In gave the vampire genre a Nordic Noir makeover, Thelma has done the same with the superhero genre, but with much less success. It’s interesting for sure, but by the time the credits roll, it’s still unclear exactly what her powers were. And what’s with all the birds? If she has the ability to supernaturally control her environment, why does she keep making birds fly into windows? Because that’s just weird. And pointless.

OUT NOW ON DVD AND ON DEMAND.

#Thelma

Manchester, UK

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