Joachim Trier rightfully earned raves for his 2011 international breakthrough Oslo, August 31 and really should have been in more Best of 2016 conversations for the underrated Louder than Bombs, featuring top-notch turns from Jesse Eisenberg, Isabelle Huppert and Gabriel Byrne.
Taking a markedly different turn than those two dramatic works would suggest, the Norwegian filmmaker showcases his versatility with the psychological thriller Thelma and makes a star out of Eili Harboe in the process.
Captivating as the titular sheltered college freshman, the relative newcomer leads a fairly small cast that also includes Thelma’s oppressive, devoutly religious parents (Ellen Dorrit Petersen and Henrik Rafaelsen), who keep close tabs on her in what’s ostensibly her first time alone in the world — and for good reason.
Soon overtaken by mysterious seizures, the first of which is preceded by a strange animal accident that can’t be coincidental, Thelma meets and develops feelings for Anja (Kaya Wilkins), but their budding romance only temporarily halts her unusual behavior.
As she discovers her true self and learns about her past — revealed to viewers through tense, economical flashbacks — her abilities are conceived through slick special effects that enhance the human story rather than distract from it.
Easy comparisons to Carrie are only somewhat warranted since telekinesis is but one aspect of Thelma’s powers, whose source is more complex than the onset of womanhood within an ignorant household.
That the film stops short of offering grand statements on life and the human condition in the manner of Trier’s prior films is more a limitation of the genre than the filmmakers and cast, though it’s promising to see the director branch out instead of pigeonhole himself so early in his career.
Grade: B-plus. Not rated, but with adult language and themes and disturbing images. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: The Orchard)