‘Carrie’ meets ‘X-Men’ in the brilliant queer thriller ‘Thelma’

The overlap between X-Men fandom and European art cinema is about as niche as you can get. But if you like the sound of that combination, you need to see Thelma.

Directed by Norwegian indie darling Joachim Trier, Thelma is a tense, atmospheric thriller about a young woman who develops unwanted superpowers. Raised in a strict Christian household, she finds it hard to connect with other students at her new college. She’s isolated by her shy nature and oppressive upbringing, and to make matters worse, she starts having bizarre seizures. Seemingly triggered by intense emotion, the seizures get worse as she falls in love with Anja, one of her classmates.

Thelma’s powers tie into her repressed sexuality, bursting forth as she struggles to balance her new life with her father’s restrictive expectations. At the same time, her experiences echo familiar stories about teen witches and monstrous transformations—allegories for puberty and young women being crushed by society. She’s powerful, but that power is frightening, unexpected, and mostly unwanted.

Eili Harboe is sensitive and convincingly youthful as Thelma, immediately relatable despite the weirdness of her situation. In some ways it’s a horror movie about the loneliness of moving away from home for the first time; in others it’s an imaginative drama about queer identity, religion, and the closet. Caught somewhere between Carrie and Netflix’s artistically ambitious drama The OA, it’s a beautiful, refreshingly unpredictable experience.

Thelma came out on limited release on Nov. 10, expanding to more theaters in December.

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor