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Directed by Joachim Trier
Written by Joachim Trier & Eskil Vogt
Starring Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelsen, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Grethe Eltervåg, Marte Magnusdotter Solem, Anders Mossling, Vanessa Borgli, Steinar Klouman Hallert, Ingrid Giæver, Oskar Pask, Gorm Alexander Foss Grømer, Camilla Belsvik, Martha Kjørven, Ingrid Jørgensen Dragland, Lars Berge, Vibeke Lundquist, Sigve Bøe, Isabel Christine Andreasen, Tom Louis Lindstrøm, Irina Eidsvold Tøien
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While there might be a case to call this film slowly paced, I was enrapt with this film from start to finish. Expanding on the “It’s a Wonderful Life” theme from the original TWILIGHT ZONE series, the Norwegian thriller THELMA explores the terrifying threat of a child born with the power of a god.<br.
Thelma (Eili Harboe) is a new student at school, shy and tentative for form relationships with her peers. With parents who are devout Christians, Thelma’s ways are scoffed at and ridiculed by her peers, save Anja (Kaya Wilkins) who is enamoured with the
innocent waif. As Anja and Thelma begin their relationship, Thelma begins experiencing seizures and other weird phenomenon (such as birds flying into windows around her). When a tragedy occurs in the school, Thelma returns home where her parents decide to tell her the truth about her power and the childhood she only barely remembers.
What is so compelling about THELMA is that it takes its time to reveal its hand that it is a film about the supernatural. While there are some odd instances (such as the birds killing themselves by flying into the windows around her and the siezures), you don’t know if there is some unseen force tormenting Thelma or if she is exuding this phenomenon herself. As the film proceeds, we see the full extent of Thelma’s devastating power, culminating in a second half that doesn’t make a lot of noise, but is explosive nonetheless. The subtle way Joachim Trier exemplifies Thelma’s power makes it all the more terrifying by the end.
Actress Eili Harboe is a true find as she encapsulates the frustrations of a child becoming an adult even before her powers are evident. She is a mild mannered and well intentioned young woman, celebrating her little victories with a closed-lipped smile and a brightness in her eyes that are often shielded or looking down. These little subtleties are what make this quiet little movie so powerful. This is a story of great power being possessed by a meek soul and because her power has been hampered by strict parents and rigid religious belief, that power is overflowing and manifests itself in an uncontrollable way. Harboe is able to exude that power without so much as a word.
THELMA is not an effects extravaganza like a CARRIE or X-MEN, though she could fit into those universes quite easily. It’s a resonant and often beautiful tale, focusing on the impact of smaller gestures or passing instinctual thoughts and how in the hands of the untrained, power can be devastating. There are a few scenes that are absolutely harrowing (there’s a scene later on involving someone catching on fire that is done with devastating beauty), but in the end, this is about a caged bird released for the first time. THELMA isn’t a film that breezes by and leaves you longing for the next film. It’s one that’ll stick with you if the pace doesn’t get in the way.
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