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Review: 'Thelma' Offers A Sexy And Bittersweet Tale of Monsters And Lesbian Love

By Kristy Puchko | Reviews | November 10, 2017 |

By Kristy Puchko | Reviews | November 10, 2017 |

Do you remember your first major crush? Take a second. Remember how your brain went bubbly when you saw them. Recall their scent, their laugh, their smile, and how all of any of this made your skin turn hot, your breath catch in your throat. A crush can make you feel both elation and terrifyingly out of control of your own body. Norwegian writer/director Joachim Trier explores this crushing conflict in his poetic and haunting supernatural coming-of-age drama Thelma.

Angel-faced ingénue Eili Harboe stars as Thelma, a young woman from a rural Christian background, who is on her own for the first time as she begins college. Her parents call daily, weighing in on everything from what she should eat to what homework she should be working on when. At first, their overzealous supervision seems a relatable—even comical—annoyance. Whose mom hasn’t tried to micromanage their life over the phone? But as Thelma grows close to flirtatious classmate Anja (Kaya Wilkins), her parents’ attention begins to seem sinister.

After meeting Anja, Thelma begins to experience strange seizures that change the world around her, flickering lights and sending birds into a blind frenzy. Though she usually keeps nothing from her parents, Thelma refuses to mention either seizures or Anja to them. Her reasons for the latter are easy to discern. Her bear of a dad is painted as a bible-thumping zealot, yet Trier spares us fire and brimstone speeches about the sins of homosexuality. Instead, he elegantly frames Thelma’s internal conflict in her glance and subtle smile to a gay couple on a night out, and the gold cross that glints around her neck.

He brews the sexual tension between Thelma and Anja with intimate close-ups as the girls joke, drink, then finally fumble into their first kiss. Harbow and Wilkins share such an easy and electric chemistry, you’ll fall too. But thoughts of Anja throw Thelma into tremors, tempting the audience to unravel the mysteries behind what doctors call her “psychogenic non-epileptic seizures.” In chasing down the source of these seizures, Thelma unearths some mind-blowing revelations that will change her world forever.

Though billed as a thriller, Thelma is more slow-burn horror, a monster movie with a wounded but human heart at its core. With two graceful and gutting performances from his leading ladies, Trier crafts a compelling lesbian romance alongside a rich “return of the repressed” horror story. Like Ginger Snaps, Nina Forever or Raw, it’s a misunderstood monster movie about becoming a woman that throbs with compassion yet relishes a splash of well-placed gore. But brace yourself, for Thelma is less crowd pleasing, avoiding comedy, embracing moral ambiguity, and concluding in an ending that dares to leave you guessing.

Following its lauded premiere at TIFF, Thelma hits America first at Fantastic Fest, then at New York Film Festival.