Stop me if this sounds familiar. A young woman with a burgeoning sexuality discovers she may have dangerous powers beyond her control. Horror films have often explored feminine power, focusing on young women coming-of-age while coping with supernatural growing pains. Think Carrie’s telekinesis, Ginger’s sudden growth of a furry tail and most recently Raw’s vegetarian-turned-cannibal-veterinary-student.
Thelma is the latest in this long line of female ‘monsters’ who we might just ending up rooting for as they wreak havoc on the old patriarchy. The titular character is a young woman who has arrived in the city to study biology at university, for the first time living away from her rural-living religious parents. While Thelma makes friends and enjoys her new found independence, her strict parents are frequently phoning to check up on her. When Thelma meets classmate Anya, something awakens in her that is not just about her sexuality, but might also be supernatural.
Beginning with its most arresting image, Thelma unveils its intriguing story slowly and vaguely predictably. It opens with Thelma as a little girl accompanying her father while out hunting in the woods. As he spies a deer and takes aim with his rifle, he pauses and then points the gun at the back of his daughter’s head. The sense of Thelma being dangerous is immediately instilled, and the father’s fear of his daughter’s powers becomes a thread that insidiously weaves its way through the film.
Thelma explores its protagonist’s fear of the unknown and her uncertainty about her own desires. When she meets Anya, the pair begin as friends before their relationship swiftly develops. Director Joachim Trier frequently demonstrates the power of these new emotions, as well as the fear and panic they can cause. Thelma is haunted by dreams and visions and the crucifix that sits around her neck reminds of what she has been taught, and how she knows she is supposed to feel about her new experiences. Watching her experimenting with drinking, smoking and kissing for the first time, it is clear that she has been dominated for too long, but that she has also succumbed to being submissive, and has even relished the comfort and care of her parents.
Flashbacks fill in details of why Thelma’s father fears her so much, but in the present, the pair have a complex, interesting relationship that doesn’t quite fit the usual overbearing parent and child template. Borrowing most from the likes of films like Carrie, Thelma again explores ideas of faith and parental domination, of coming of age and coming to terms with womanhood and the possibility of extreme new powers.
While Thelma doesn’t cover much new ground, its existential horror is deliberately and wholeheartedly character-driven. It may not have quite the cathartic release of seeing Carrie burn the prom to the ground, but it does go to some dark places and our heroine emerges as a yet another shining example of a feminist horror avenger, if not nearly as iconic as some that came before her.
THELMA / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JOACHIM TRIER / SCREENPLAY: JOACHIM TRIER, ESKIL VOGT / STARRING: EILI HARBOE, KAYA WILKINS, HENRIK RAFAELSEN, ELLEN DORRIT PETERSEN / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 3RD
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10