In Thelma, suppressing facts—whether it’s your identity or power—is the real horror

Enlarge / Meet Thelma. Medical professionals can't seem to nail down what's happening in her brain... (credit: Fantastic Fest / Thelma)

You might not see a more stunning film in 2017 than Director Joachim Trier’s Thelma, Norway’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. It tonally combines the unbridled happiness of a coming-of-age/first love film with the creepy stillness and angularity of arthouse horror. And aesthetically it unleashes sequences that will inevitably play silently on repeat at the hippest bar you can think of once Thelma hits a streaming service.

With all that beauty, it’s a shame the film seems so reductive at first—forbidden love and a cursed child; a body horror like Carrie but set in Europe. Luckily, that impression proves to be as window dressing-y as the title character’s minimalist Nordic dorm room. With a dash of the supernatural and a mystery that ultimately reveals answers by excluding explanation, Thelma offers more depth (and fun) than the clichés of its film blurb would lead you to believe.

Go to college, see the world

Shy Thelma leaves her religious, conservative family in small-town Norway to pursue university in vibrant Oslo. The lifestyle proves to be quite different. Kids drink and go out late, they try weed and stuff. Accordingly, Thelma doesn’t seem to be connecting much if at all at first (but you’re making new friends on Facebook, her dad encourages). Worse, one day early in the semester, she suffers a very public and sudden seizure in the library. Her parents already ask her daily for every little detail (Mom overlooks nothing: what’s for dinner? Isn’t your next class tomorrow, what are you doing tonight?). This isn’t a welcome development.

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