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A student discovers terrifying abilities in ‘Thelma’

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Eili Harboe feels overwhelmed by life in Thelma.
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Three and a half stars

Thelma Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelsen. Directed by Joachim Trier. Not rated. Opens Friday at Village Square.

Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier’s previous films have been subdued dramas focused mostly on internal conflicts, and sometimes a little too understated for their own good. Maybe what those movies were missing was a dose of the supernatural—Trier’s fourth feature, Thelma, is his best, a mesmerizing story about a teenage girl whose repressed sexuality manifests itself in dangerous telekinetic and telepathic powers. It’s a bit like Carrie reimagined as a Scandinavian art film, but the constant threat of otherworldly peril gives even the slower moments a sense of the unpredictable and unsettling.

The title character (Eili Harboe) is in her first year at a big-city university after growing up in an isolated rural area with her strict Christian parents, and she’s overwhelmed by everything from parties to studies to the widespread availability of alcohol. Most overwhelming, however, are her romantic feelings for classmate Anja (Kaya Wilkins), often accompanied by violent seizures and flickering lights. The movie is slow to reveal the source of Thelma’s powers, and their exact nature is never entirely clear, but the performances and Trier’s chilly, aloof visual style make the movie consistently creepy, whether Thelma is shattering windows or just trying to communicate with another human being.

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