Much like Jordan Peele folded acidic commentary and comedy into the shocks and dread of Get Out, Joachim Trier’s fourth feature, Thelma, is a lot more than it appears: as a thriller about a young woman with kinetic abilities.
On the surface, Thelma’s plot revolves around the plight of the titular character (played with the wet-eyed timidity of a lost fawn by Eili Harboe) and her realization of what her powerful mind is capable of. But deeper down, the story is about what her body is craving—and there’s some sharp observations about repressive religious beliefs sprinkled in, too.
Our introduction to Thelma is as a lonely university student, who, when not fielding weirdly invasive phone calls from her parents, shuffles quietly between classes and the library. As she studies one afternoon, she finds herself gazing longingly at a female classmate, Anja (Kaya Wilkins), then suffering a seizure that sends her falling to the floor and sends crows thumping into a nearby window.
As the friendship and attraction between the two women deepens, Thelma reels with fantasies and increasingly dangerous seizures, not to mention an existential crisis, as she begs God to remove this desire from her heart.
There’s much more to Thelma, but I hesitate to unpack it and risk ruining the film’s slow-build tension. By exercising a chilling reserve, Trier bounces back admirably from his leaden 2015 English-language drama Louder Than Bombs—here, he and cinematographer Jakob Ihre turn even the simplest of scenes, like Thelma riding the bus or eating dinner with her parents, into moments of claustrophobic dread. It keeps you waiting for the dam to burst—and makes the eventual deluge all the more satisfying.