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Thelma (2017) IMDB description: “A confused religious girl tries to deny her feelings for a female friend who’s in love with her. This causes her suppressed subconsciously-controlled psychokinetic powers to reemerge with devastating results.”
Attachment (2022) IMDB description: “Maja, a Danish has-been actress, falls in love with Leah, a Jewish academic from London. Leah suffers a mysterious seizure, and Maja returns with her to London. There, she meets Leah’s mother, Chana, a woman who could hold dark secrets.”
Why I took them off the list: I’d been meaning to watch Thelma, a supernatural thriller from Norway, for a while.
It’s from Joaquim Trier, writer/director of the excellent romantic comedy The Worst Person in the World (2021). As well as the fantastic drama Oslo, August, 31st (2011).
And I thought I’d make this a Double Feature by pairing it up with another LGBTQ-tinged thriller from a Nordic country, the recent Danish horror Attachment (2022).
So, let’s dig in!
Review of Thelma (2017)
The titular character of this film shares a similar introduction to that of Hanna (2011). We first meet Thelma out hunting in an icy wilderness with her father, but unlike the stealthy killer, this little girl simply looks on as her father aims, and prepares to fire.
However, after Thelma slightly glances at her dad, he lowers the rifle, and the scene ends. It’s puzzling at the time, but what happened becomes clear later when we realize that she is far more powerful than she looks.
The main action of the film takes place years later when Thelma is all grown off and headed off to university in Oslo. It becomes pretty clear that she’s quite glad to get away from her strictly controlling religious parents, who constantly call her to make sure she’s sticking to her class schedule or grill her about what she’s made for dinner.
But it’s also clear that she’s fearful and unsure of herself. What she doesn’t know is that her repressed feelings can have dangerous consequences.
This becomes apparent when an attraction to a girl in her class triggers her to have seizures. Oh, and birds into fly into windows. And objects to move. And sometimes people to straight up vanish. Yep, Thelma turns out to have more in common with Carrie White than Hanna.
Commendably Grounded and Sensitive
While Thelma is clearly a metaphor for the dangers of strict religious repression, it takes a far more grounded and realistic approach than something like Carrie or the similarly themed horror flick Saint Maud (2019). The many uncomfortable medical test scenes make it feel more like The Exorcist than anything else.
The acting is incredibly naturalistic, and the characters are drawn in more subtler shades of gray than this kind of narrative typically uses. For example, Thelma’s father generally has a loving and supportive demeanor and is in theory a sensible doctor. He also happens to be a controlling and manipulative bible basher.
Thelma is more overtly painted as a victim, but she’s an appealing and likable character thanks to the understated but emotionally raw performance of young Eili Harboe. The tentative relationship she develops with Kaya Wilkins’ Anja is sweet and sensitively portrayed, and we feel her distress when her guilt and shame start to interfere with her happiness.
When Thelma starts taking more control over her life, it’s certainly cathartic. However, the violent climax feels a bit morally questionable in the larger scope of the story (the horror elements here largely don’t land as well as the drama).
The ending is also a bit too tidy, considering the events that came before. But overall, Thelma is a satisfying narrative.
Total score: 8/10
Thelma (2017): Worth Watching?
Yes, Thelma has a little too tidy an ending, and horror fans may be left wanting. But otherwise, it’s a gripping drama that deals with the dangers of repression, a sweet romance, and, occasionally, a scary thriller.
Directed by Joachim Trier
Written by Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier
Review of Attachment (Natten har øjne)
Like Thelma, this Danish film, which I missed at the 2023 Sitges Festival, admirably blends a whole host of different genres but is ultimately less successful. It starts more as a romantic comedy than anything else, with a fun meet-cute in a Copenhagen University library between the 2 adorable main characters.
This quickly blossoms into an all-out romance that’s easy to root for, helped by snappy dialogue and charming performers in Josephine Park and Ellie Kendrick. But things take a turn when Kendrick’s Leah has a seizure that results in a broken leg. Park’s Maja then agrees to accompany her to her Danish mother’s place in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in London.
From then on, and similar to Amulet (2020), much of the action takes place in a single claustrophobic house and mystical talismans figure heavily into the story. However, the film relies a bit too much on the exoticism of Jewish mysticism to the main character to conjure chills, which feels a little exploitative and uncomfortable.
Nevertheless, for the first hour, this is a solid chamber piece of a psychological thriller. The meat of the drama stems from Park’s character facing off against Sophie Grabol’s seemingly overly possessive mother in scenes brimming with a palpable escalating unease.
Good Acting Can’t Entirely Save a Muddled Ending
There’s some interesting culture clash dark comedy in Attachment, and smart use of languages that not everybody in the room understands to build tension. And it’s refreshing that the film makes it clear early on that the couple’s sexual orientation isn’t the cause of the rift with the mother, but something altogether more mysterious.
Gråbøl is given some particularly juicy lines in this film and proves once again she’s an actress cable of great screen presence and subtlety. Park and Kendrick do some impressive work too, with the former in particular showing an impressive knack for awkward comedy.
However, like fellow UK-set queer thriller B&B (2017), Attachment goes off the rails a bit when it leaves the house. The third act seemingly (and clumsily) relocates to rural Denmark. And things get silly when the main characters implausibly reunite in the middle of a forest (one of them even calls out how ridiculous this is, but that doesn’t exactly help).
The core conflicts get pushed to the sidelines by a poorly signposted plot development that doesn’t have much do to with the character arcs that were laid out in the first 2 acts. By the end, the story has become muddled and devolves into tired horror tropes, hanging solely on Kendrick’s (admittedly excellent) performance.
Total Score: 6/10
Attachment (2022): Worth watching?
It depends. I’m giving Attachment a 6 because of the good performances and the solid first hour. However, it sadly loses its way in the third act, making for a bit of a disappointing experience overall.
Written and directed by Gabriel Bier Gislason