Film Review: Thelma

Director and co-writer Joachim Trier’s Thelma is an engaging psychological thriller. It is an enjoyable watch, despite some breaks in momentum.

From a conservative Christian family, Thelma is leaving home to attend university. There she forms an attachment to a friend, but at the same time starts to experience strange phenomena…

Written by Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt, Thelma mixes a science fiction with a thriller. The narrative works on a number of layers. There is the aspect of Thelma’s upbringing which has an impact, there is her burgeoning relationship with Anja, and there are her unexplained seizures. These three strands combine rather well. The film offers a strong element of mystery. It straddles the uncanny; for a significant period it is unclear whether the strange occurrences are supernatural, or whether there is a rational explanation. Psychological themes are prevalent in the film. At first it is unclear whether the activity is coming from within, or externally. Later this seems assured, yet viewers are still kept into suspense over the cause. Trier plays on this to a good degree, keeping viewers guessing as to the cause of the bizarre activity. Trier waits until the right time to reveal pertinent information.

Thelma functions well as the protagonist caught between the wishes of her conservative parents and her desire to explore the freedom of being away from home for the first time. Trier and Vogt do a good job of marrying this theme with the supernatural aspects of the narrative. As the film progresses, it is clear that this is a story about exercising free will. The supernatural activity acts as a conduit for this theme.

Art direction in the film is great, with the use of lighting to position viewers with the protagonist. The only real downside to the film is that it takes a little too long to get going with one of the main strands.  The film suffers with some pacing problems, but these do not make the film unsalvageable. Eili Harboe is great in the leading role, and has good chemistry with Kaya Wilkins’ Anja.

Thelma is an enjoyable thriller which sees Joachim Trier execute his themes precisely and successfully.

Thelma is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2017.

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