When doll-faced Thelma (Eili Harboe) first meets her college crush, Anja (Kaya Wilkins), a twitch in her hand leads to a full-blown seizure while crows do kamikazes into the window outside. This is how sexual yearning manifests itself in Thelma, this year’s creepiest and most beautiful lesbian film. Directed by Norway’s Joachim Trier (Reprise), the Oslo-set movie transcends the well-trod conceit of the Christian girl gone awry (Thelma was raised extremely religious) by hinting at something deeper and darker. Whether through aerial views that suggest a divine stalker or nightmares about snakes in the grass, each painterly scene edges closer to a truth that Thelma must uncover.
Because of its moments of libido-driven telekinesis, Thelma has drawn comparisons to Carrie, whose troubled young teen also had a Bible-thumping parent. But you won’t find any Piper Laurie–like shrillness in Trier’s brooding festival favorite (Thelma’s mom and dad are eerily calm), or any buckets of adolescent malice looming over its anti-heroine. Thelma’s isolation allows her to explore herself personally and sexually, even if both endeavors ensure more terror; the light touch of Anja’s hand on her thigh nearly implodes a theater, and self-prescribed epilepsy tests only exacerbate her id.
In charting the fierce pull of desire, Thelma never quite delivers the primal jolt of 2014’s Stranger by the Lake, another queer film laced with the supernatural. But by adding a feminine mystique to similar themes, it becomes an apt sister piece, both chilling and enticing.
Thelma is out in theaters now.