Thelma review: Joachim Trier’s part-horror/part-coming-of-age feature comes to cinemas following impressive debuts on the international film festival circuit.

Thelma review by Awais Irfan.

Thelma review

The coming-of-age genre is one of those that we’ve seen done to death. To really stand out from the crowd, you have to be different. And that’s exactly why director Joachim Trier’s part-horror/part-coming-of-age Thelma excels.

Our eyes into this story are that of Eili Harboe, in the eponymous role. She’s moving away from home, enrolling in university in Oslo, Norway. Her parents are overbearing, however, and Thelma keeps herself to herself mostly – quiet, and introverted – but, when she meets Anja (Kaya Wilkins), she finds herself opening up and cutting loose. But it’s not without its repercussions, as Thelma quickly learns that she has supernatural abilities – dangerous abilities.

Thelma review

Thelma opens in a truly haunting fashion. We see a young girl and her father out in the wilderness, they pass a frozen lake and head into the woods. When the little girl is looking away, the father – instead of perhaps scouting animals through the crosshairs of his guns – has his weapon pointed at the back of his daughter’s head. His moment of hesitation is brief, but very apparent, as the thought of pulling the trigger passes his mind. But he doesn’t. That little girl ends up being our titular lead, but it’s a scene that is dark and unnerving – one that best encapsulates the tone and atmosphere Trier goes for. Thelma isn’t a horror film riddled with the formulaic conventions and cliches; no, this is a film that prefers its chills than its thrills – atmospheric and intense, rather than loud and jump-scares.

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Trier’s orchestration of tension is almost masterful, patient yet precise, slowly tightening its claws around its audiences like helpless prey in the grip of a hungry predator. It’s creepy. It’s dark. The frostbitten cinematography adds to this cold hostility and isolated feel – using a colour palette of greys and blacks to lure out any possible warmth and make us, the viewer, feel claustrophobic and uneasy. However, whilst this horror-element is pivotal to Thelma, it’s the afterthought to character and story. The film does take a little while to find its footing but, when it does, it’s captivating. It’s a film that is purposefully paced, taking its time in establishing its story and its characters and it does so with such great care and craft – the writing is sharp and there is a palpable authenticity that grounds the proceedings, and the characters (most especially, Thelma).

Thelma review

Harboe is excellent as Thelma, she is a powerhouse. There is an innocence to her, but we watch her grow darker, and Harboe plays this with such haunting conviction. She’s vulnerable yet dark, innocuous yet seductive and charismatic, and Harboe gives a performance that is wholly believable and enthralling. Trier’s work here is excellent. Thelma is superb. It’s a coming-of-age story that is thematically important and relevant – there’s lots of subtle metaphors and some not-so-subtle ones but all very necessary – and it’s handled brilliantly. However, as a horror film, in a year where this genre is stellar, it shines too. But just as a film, it brings all the right ingredients to the table. It’s flawed, yes. But it’s deftly fascinating, wildly entertaining, and thoroughly intense too. This is a film that lingers on the tongue, and one that will leave you reeling for some time after.

Thelma review by Awais Irfan, October 2017.

Thelma is released in UK cinemas on Friday 3rd November 2017.