Joachim Trier’s movie about a lonely young woman with strange powers sneaks up on you quietly, like an unexpected shiver. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
A cool Norwegian twist on “Carrie,” Joachim Trier’s “Thelma” has at its center a lonely young woman (Eili Harboe) with strange powers. Having left the remote town where she lives with her deeply religious parents, Thelma arrives at college in Oslo fairly vibrating with anxiety. You can see how badly she’d like to fit in — and how she’d like to pursue her attraction to lovely Anja (Kaya Wilkins) — but that she has no idea how to do so. She suffers from unexplained seizures and horrifying dreams — and odd things happen to birds, and other things, in her presence.
Trier, who most recently directed the English-language drama “Louder Than Bombs,” lets the story unfold slowly; there’s much we don’t understand, early on, about Thelma’s background and family. We only know that there’s something eerie in the way Harboe holds the camera’s gaze; in the blankness both of her apartment and her stare. The filmmaking, quiet and spare, expertly plucks the tension, particularly a breath-holding sequence in which Thelma attends an ominously dark dance performance with Anja and her mother, desperately clutching her own hands to subvert what she doesn’t know how to control.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Thelma,’ with Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Henrik Rafaelsen. Directed by Joachim Trier, from a screenplay by Trier and Eskil Vogt. 116 minutes. In Norwegian with English subtitles. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains disturbing scenes). AMC Seattle 10 (21+).
Unlike “Carrie,” there’s little gore here (other than an unnerving shot of blood dripping into a glass of milk) and few theatrics. It’s chilly in Oslo, and in this movie; the better to sneak up on you quietly, like an unexpected shiver.