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Review: Thelma

November 17, 2017

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Thelma (Eili Harboe) is a university student who is trying to get away from her fundamentalist parents (Henrik Rafaelsen and Ellen Dorrit Peterson), having moved away from home to live on campus and study in Oslo.

But when she starts having mysterious fainting spells, and also comes to fall in love with fellow female student Anja (Okay Kaya), Thelma starts to explore both her lesbian tendencies and the supernatural abilities that she seemingly possesses.  When her feelings get too intense, she appears to have the ability to control people and things with her mind, leading her to uncover buried secrets from her past.

Directed by Joachim Trier, who walks a careful balance between character drama, psychological thriller and supernatural horror movie, Thelma plays almost like a Norwegian version of Carrie crossed with elements of Black Swan.  Although it largely lacks the same impact or resonance of those films, and offers a somewhat clichéd tale of religious fundamentalism leading to repressed sexuality with extreme psychological side effects, Thelma offers enough suspenseful moments and cool stylistic touches to keep us intrigued from scene to scene.

The film affectively sets the stage with a chilling opening sequence, flashing back to a childhood hunting trip with Thelma and her father, and the ending practically begs for another viewing to properly dissect it all.  The religious metaphors do feel a little heavy handed, like the visual of a temptuous snake sliding into Thelma’s mouth during a sexual fantasy with Anja, or the drips of red blood from her nose that drop into a glass of white milk, meant to symbolize the shattering of her purity.  But there are still enough elements that feel fresh to make this stylized and often intriguing film worth a look.

Thelma is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Yonge-Dundas in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

A version of this review was originally published during the Toronto International Film Festival.

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