'Thelma' film review: Norway's haunting, tense horror offering
The Norwegian supernatural thriller "Thelma" (now playing in select cities) instantly grips from its first compelling moments. This is a slow burn of a psychological horror flick - one that hints at a darkness within its guileless protagonist.
In short: Thelma, a Norwegian student with a religious background, moves to Oslo, where she falls in love with another girl, and soon discovers that her feelings trigger inexplicable powers.
"Thelma" drops a steady row of compelling little crumbs as it patiently establishes her character - carefully painting the portrait of an isolated, socially repressed young woman and introducing tantalizing hints about her powers. It methodically builds the tension that something terrible will happen - even when the exact nature of the true threat is unclear. "Thelma" is a like an inverted superhero film - the traditional story glosses over the part where the protagonist struggles with the nature and control over their ability. But "Thelma" focuses entirely on this turbulent and terrifying empowerment, where she's not aware of the extent of her powers.
Yes "Thelma" is about a woman with supernatural powers - but it remains firmly rooted in the titular character herself - specifically, how her strained relationship with her parents and her infatuation unbalances her and her powers. It is Thelma's lack of control over her own life and her parents' excessive control over Thelma that drives the film. The fact that the film doesn't explicitly explain the origin of her powers allows "Thelma" not to get caught up in the minutia of unnecessary detail. Rather, it centers on Thelma's internal struggle: her deeply rooted repression, an artifact of her parents' rigid structure meant to keep her under control.
Although the story peppers intriguing plot reveals throughout the film, the movie's somewhat slow pacing and muted tone mean "Thelma" never becomes exciting or invigorating. Aside from a small handful of energized moments, the film is comfortable moving at its own deliberate pace. While this doesn't take away from the quality of the film, this does make it more difficult to recommend - especially to anyone looking for a fun or outright entertaining "popcorn" horror flick.
Final verdict: Strip away the high-concept aspects of "Thelma" and the film would still be a compelling work of coming-of-age psychological horror.
"Thelma" is the Norwegian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards. This film is unrated and has a running time of 116 minutes.