• [The Daily] NYFF 2017: Joachim Trier’s Thelma

    By David Hudson


    We begin with Angelo Muredda, writing for Cinema Scope: “Joachim Trier makes a sterling if somewhat noncommittal bid for post-horror with Thelma, a slow-burn supernatural thriller about a Norwegian teen (Eili Harboe) who goes away to college (and away from her morally rigid Christian parents) and finds her long dormant powers to make terrible and strange things happen reactivated by, what else, her raging hormones. Trier spends much of the first act flirting with the many potential blurred lines between mental illness, religious extremism, repressed sexuality, and extrasensory abilities, being overly coy about the possibility . . . that any one of these earthbound ailments might be causing Thelma’s peculiar, undiagnosable situation, which first manifests as non-epileptic seizures and gradually blossoms into full-on Carrie-style pyrotechnics. It’s no wonder the film takes off in its middle stretch when Trier sheds these unnecessary explanations.”

    “The opening sequence, photographed by Jakob Ihre in bold widescreen compositions, is a visual stunner that immediately draws you in, its ominous tone fortified by Ola Flottum's lush, brooding score,” writes David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter. And “the movie owes much of its unsettling command to the suggestive power of Ihre's camerawork, notably in his skilled use of wildlife and water imagery, and insidious overhead angles that invite heightened scrutiny.”

    At Reverse Shot, Julien Allen finds that Thelma “emerges from its brumal opening sequence as a slightly intensified example of Trier’s regular stock-in-trade—the introspective, existential drama, like Oslo, August 31st and Louder Than Bombs—before slowly and deliberately metamorphosing into a supernatural thriller of the type more traditionally associated with Brian De Palma (The Fury, Carrie). What hasn't changed at all, despite the shift into genre, is Trier's commitment to helping us sympathize with damaged, alienating (and alienated) people.”

    Thelma has been compared to sort of an indie-movie X-Men or a slow-burn horror picture,” notes Jesse Hassenger in Brooklyn Magazine. “But the obvious antecedent is Frozen—not the survival horror, but the Disney princess story. Thelma’s parents conceal her powers from the world and from herself; she’s a combination Anna and Elsa in one conflicted body. . . . Thelma is sometimes dispassionate to a fault . . . What keeps it humming is Harboe’s performance, and Trier’s patience . . . He hasn’t exactly made a horror movie here, but Thelma suggests he could.”

    “As compulsively watchable as Harboe can be,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich, “Thelma is too much of an empty vessel to eclipse the beguiling madness that Trier invents for her; she’s reserved to the point that she borders on a non-character, and there are moments when the freaky circumstances of her freshman year feel interesting in spite of her.” That said: “The stillness of this unassuming film ultimately becomes the scariest thing about it, as Trier reconciles his protagonist’s inner and outer desires, her faith and her feelings, and leaves us wondering how terrible it would be—how terrible we would be—if everyone always got exactly what they wanted.”

    At the A.V. Club, A. A. Dowd argues that “Trier’s first foray into the fantastic—his college Carrie—gets stuck in an odd middle ground: It’s at once too metaphorically muddled and too dramatically straightforward. Do Thelma’s powers represent her deepest desires or the denial of those desires? The film doesn’t settle on one or the other, but the message comes through loud and clear: Trying to suppress who you really are can have catastrophic consequences. Which, duh.”

    “It’s perhaps difficult to parse writer/director Joachim Trier’s exact intent in making Thelma, a film which is one part supernatural thriller, another superhero origin story, and yes, a third part coming-of-age repressed lesbian romance/family drama,” writes Ethan Vestby at the Film Stage, suggesting that “maybe the unholy and inherently messy mix of genres would appeal to a noted Arnaud Desplechin fan like Trier, yet at the end of the day, you ask why isn’t the actual film that came out of this wild ambition anywhere near as compelling as that suggests?”

    More from Andrew Barker (Variety), Vassilis Economou at Cineuropa, where Jorn Rossing Jensen interviews Trier, Alex Engquist (In Review Online), and Rodrigo Perez (Playlist, A-).

    Update, 10/12: For the Playlist, Jordan Ruimy talks with Trier “about his influences for Thelma, female empowerment, and what exactly is up with Terrence Malick these days.”

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