Let me tell you about Thelma, screening at the Scandinavian Film Festival. A young woman, the titular Thelma, has led a sheltered and conservative Christian upbringing in the country. She rocks up to university having never really partied, including no alcohol or drugs, and without experience with dating. While she has a strong bond with her parents, especially her dad – with whom she shares all her deepest thoughts – she is very lonely in her new environment. That is until she meets the vivacious Anja.
As it turns out, Thelma starts to be attracted to Anja, who promptly breaks up with her boyfriend. It seems Anja begins to fall in love with Thelma too. Thelma struggles with self loathing and tries to deny her sexuality and at the same begins to have inexplicable seizures that baffle doctors. Around this time, I was thinking: if I have to watch another ‘internalised homophobia’ horror (oh, forgot to mention it’s promoted as a horror), I’m going to throw my popcorn at the screen. (Except not really as someone would have to clean it up.) But the film goes in an unexpected direction.
Thelma is exquisitely filmed. It’s not really a horror in the classic sense, as there is more intrigue than gore and shock, but the twists have you on tenderhooks. There are some answers along the way for the vexing Thelma, but not everything is resolved neatly.
Intersectionality: Anja is a woman of color and bisexual; no other people of colour live in Scandinavia apparently. Depiction of disability (mental health, epilepsy, paraplegia, suicide) is ableist. Warning; there are multiple scenes with strobe lights. LGBTQIA themes are mixed: ultimately, this is a story about seeking self acceptance (great) but the resolution is terrifying if you think about it long enough. The sex scenes mostly about women finding self pleasure and slightly less driven by the male gaze than usual, but then again, there’s also snake symbolism which is phallicspeak for men should stop writing about lesbians. Depiction of religion is xenophobic (religiosity as ‘backward’ and punishing).
These themes of otherness are not well-handled but as a film about loneliness and finding empowerment (albeit through weird paranormal happenings) Thelma is top notch. The film is recommended to those who love cerebral horrors; these are the best kind. Score: 8/10