After being brought up by somewhat overbearing and devoutly religious parents, Thelma (Eili Harboe) is striking out on her own at university in Oslo. While she is shy and struggles to make friends initially, Thelma eventually becomes close to classmate Anja (Kaya Wilkins). Their relationship starts to become increasingly intimate. At the same time, Thelma is experiencing strange and increasingly severe seizures. She comes to learn that they are connected with some kind of mysterious, supernatural powers she has inherited.
Thelma has been compared to Stephen King’s Carrie but the film also draws resonance with this year's stellar film Raw, a French-Belgian horror with a cannibalistic twist. All three are coming-of-age stories featuring young women who are coming to grips with their sexuality, but it becomes clear from an early stage that something abnormal or supernatural is happening to their minds and bodies.
Mind you, while this trio are comparable, they are also completely distinct and unique, and in Thelma, there is something intoxicatingly fascinating about the story unravelling before your eyes. This effect could not be achieved without the key lead performance of relative newcomer Eili Harboe as Thelma, who brings to the role an intensity that calls to mind the award-winning performance of Isabelle Huppert in the film The Piano Teacher (indeed there is a scene in the film that references the Cannes darling). Her supports in Kaya Wilkins, as well as Henrik Rafaelsen and Ellen Dorrit Petersen as the parents, are also impressive.
The mystery of what Thelma is and the extent of what she can do will keep you on edge, although audiences who like a neatly rounded-up story will likely find themselves dissatisfied with the finale. Still, it's a beautifully realised and stirring film that provides a strong entry into the work of director-writer Joachim Trier (whose previous credits include Louder Then Bombs, Reprise, and Oslo, August 31st). Moreover, it is a worthy choice for the Norwegian entry into the Best Foreign Language Film category at this year's Oscars.
Warning: The film contains strong flashing lights that may trigger seizures for persons with photosensitive epilepsy.