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The Orchard

Contained sci-fi explodes with character-driven drama

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Preston Barta

Thelma

Rated R, 116 minutes.

Now playing at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas.

4 of 5 stars

Sometimes the best sci-fi movies out there are the ones that spend a little less time on the high-dollar spectacle and a little more on the story and people at hand. Titles such as James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence and Andrew Droz Palermo’s One and Two use their fantastical elements merely as a backdrop. Their main focus is how the characters connect and react within their supernatural settings.

Joachim Trier’s Thelma looks like a popcorn thriller of the largest scale, and has all the necessary ingredients. But as you’ll soon realize during the film’s mysterious opening in the wilderness, Trier’s recipe produces anything but typical genre fare.

The story begins with a timid young woman named Thelma (a spectacular Eili Harboe) as she enters college. Her strict Christian upbringing clashes with her desire for fellow student Anja (Kaya Wilkins). To make matters more difficult, Thelma begins to have peculiar seizures, with dangerous rumblings in the world around her.

Thelma is a slow-burn film, and one that may require a great deal of patience in order to find yourself sucked in its vortex. But if you allow the well-established characters, profound themes and calculated visuals (slow tracking shots and continuous camera zooms that pay homage to Alfred Hitchcock) to guide you, you will bear witness to one of the most fulfilling movie experiences of the year. It’s an incredible low-key sci-fi with powerful drama and performances.

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work on FreshFiction.tv. Follow him on Twitter @PrestonBarta.