Fantastic Fest Review: Look, I’m Still Not Sure How I Feel About THELMA

Joachim Trier's leaves Scott feeling indecisive.

One of the unintended running themes at Fantastic Fest 2017 is "movies that should have been about 20 minutes shorter." So many of the conversations I'm having this year have included some variation on that phrase, and it's one I absolutely sympathize with: when one is seeing back-to-back-to-back movies every day, one quickly loses patience with films that overstay their welcome, even if it's by a relatively brief period of time. In a festival environment, such overages have a way of impacting one's opinion of a film far more than they might on a day when your time feels less precious. 

On a similar note, here's a thing that seems to happen to me at Fantastic Fest every year: I'll see one movie that I simply can't render a verdict on after one screening. I might stroll out of the film feeling suitably entertained, only to walk back that opinion upon further thought. Other times, I'll feel listless and bored during a screening, only to come around after hearing out the arguments of others on its behalf. This straight-up-the-middle phenomenon doesn't happen often - with Fantastic Fest titles, one tends to be very much onboard or very much dissatisfied - but it always happens at least once, every year, like clockwork.

Forgive the lengthy preamble. This is just my way of explaining why I'm finding it so damn hard to decide whether or not I'm Team Thelma.

Joachim Trier's latest is a supernatural thriller about a college freshman named, yes, Thelma (Eili Harboe) who experiences a sort of double-awakening after befriending a fellow student by the name of Anja (Kaya Wilkins). From the get-go, it's clear that Thelma's personality is being repressed in more ways than one, and over the course of the film we watch as she struggles to get a handle on who she really is...and what she's really capable of. It's not an easy journey, and by the end of it Thelma may have left a few bodies in her wake.

On the one hand, Thelma is a slick, gorgeous-looking film packed with excellent performances (especially from its two leading ladies) and a couple of visually-impressive set pieces. It also features a timely message about religion's impact on sexuality, and the effects of denying one's true self. On the other hand, I honestly didn't feel that Thelma did much I hadn't seen before, and from early on it seemed somewhat obvious how things were likely to turn out for the film's characters. That's an issue when your movie's a full two hours long...but, again, perhaps it would feel like less of an issue if I'd experienced the film free from any other obligations. This is, admittedly, probably an unfair to charge to level at Trier's film, and it's clear - from glancing around at the other rave reviews Thelma's received - that my impatience with the film's pacing probably had more to do with me than the film itself. 

But, hey: I'm here to be honest about my reaction, and that's my reaction - Thelma contains too much greatness to be casually dismissed, and you should absolutely give it a whirl whenever you get the chance to see it (I suspect it'll be very popular amongst the BMD readership), but I'd be lying if I said I loved it unreservedly right out of the gate. Quite frankly, I need to see this one again before rendering my final verdict. For the time being, consider this a recommendation with qualifications.