AFI Fest 2017: Thelma

What if Carrie were to have been set in 2017? I envision her journey of self-discovery and tragedy would have looked a lot like Thelma, the superb film by Joachim Trier.

Thelma is a young woman who like many young women is excited and nervous about going to college. And like so many young people, who is longing to break free from their parents insecant calls and dogma. After suffering a violent seizure, she forms a connection with Anja, one that shakes her religious fundamentalist upbringing. But as she continues to grow closer, Thelma begins to notice that her beliefs aren’t the only thing about her that aren’t what she thought. A terrifying power has been released within her and will change her life forever.

Thelma succeeds on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start praising the movie. Thelma is an atmospheric and tense, without needing to be overbearing. It’s almost tone poem like in its measured approach, which is what makes the few flashy moments stand out. It’s claustrophobic in its vision; the movie feels as if it was constructed to be right alongside the audience. We’re just as weirded out as Thelma is as it becomes clear not all is right in her world or within her. As the scope begins to widen with understanding and an additional POV is added, Thelma very astutely moves us towards the climax. Joachim Trier is masterful at blending the various elements of this film together in a compelling way.

This film is more than just keeping you at bay, there’s some fun parallels and thematic resonance in the material. Thelma’s religious beliefs get tested in more ways than one, but I loved how the film used the collegiate setting to throw you off the scent of her growing powers. Her powers very well could be activated by circumstance and the movie does well to marry the supernatural with the mundane. I mentioned Carrie at the beginning, and this movie owes a bit of a debt in how the supernatural and the religious can work in tandem to reveal a lot about the human condition. What would you do if you could make what you want happen, by thought alone, and would you trust yourself to be right?

That’s just one of the many interesting questions and ideas that Thelma brings up over the course of its run time. By blending the supernatural elements in with well worn stories, Thelma becomes a fresh entry into the horror canon.

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