Here we have a coming-of-age, sexual awakening, and fantasy horror drama from Norway that, after receiving a limited European release, is finally finding its way to masses through various DVD and Blu-Ray releases.
Luckily for me, the town where I live in Italy has finally created an indie theatre where people can watch independent, lesser-known films from all around the world with English subtitles! I decided to inaugurate it by watching Thelma.
The movie centres around Thelma – what’s up with all these movies titled after the lead female character (Stephanie, Veronica…)? Thelma (Eili Harboe) is a university student who’s got a mysterious past and a strong religious upbringing. When she meets Anja (Kaya Wilkins), her beliefs are tested, as she falls for the other girl. However, this new love interest seems to tickle some shady power Thelma has, which can have dangerous consequences for herself and people around her.
Thelma is quite a unique film that resembles pace and performances of a Nordic play. It almost seems the movie has been directed by a combination of Brian De Palma and legend Ingmar Bergman. On top of that, a very strong European cinematic vibe cooks up a mystery/fantasy horror motion picture that’s as far from Hollywood standards as you can imagine.
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I must warn you, Thelma is undoubtedly not for everyone: to begin with, the pace is very, very slow. Bear in mind I usually love those horror movies that take their time to develop story and characters: in other words, I generally appreciate slow-burners that many people would consider boring. Even for me, then, Thelma was extremely slow. Boring, though? Not at all.
The story, very similar to De Palma’s Carrie, is highly compelling and intriguing, which is mostly due to the outstanding performances. The actors who play Thelma’s parents do such a thing in a subtle and effective way, but the show stealer is definitely the girl: Eili Harboe is terrific in the leading role and she carries the film along through a diversified and enthralling performance that you can’t take your eyes away from.
Besides, this film features a few memorable scene (such as the one in the theatre and the ‘broken glass’ sequence). In general, despite its super slow pace, Thelma manages to create a dreadful atmosphere that reminds me a lot of Let the Right One In (2008) and The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2017).
To me, however, the best part of the movie is represented by its subtext. Thelma has loads going on meaning-wise: it tells a coming-of-age story, it lingers on family abuse, it touches a subject matter like epilepsy, it delves into religion and catholic symbolism.
Honestly, this is a rather ambitious motion picture, perhaps even too ambitious for its own good, since I wouldn’t have minded if the movie went more in-depth in some of those issues, as opposed to tackle most of them on a superficial level.
Other than that and despite the two-hour-long runtime, I would have preferred the film to be one hour longer (crazy, right?) just so the filmmakers might have developed or investigated more the underlying messages.
Also, the ending left a sour taste in my mouth. I can’t explain why or how without getting into spoilers, so I won’t. It’s for you to find out, since I strongly recommend the movie!