Thelma (2017): Low Key Norwegian “Carrie” With a Twist (Review)

thelma-trailer

Co-written and directed by Joachim Trier, Eskil Vogt was the other writer who helped on the  screenplay, Thelma is a slow paced, almost languid twist on Stephen King’s “Carrie.” Starring the achingly beautiful Eili Harboe, this suspenseful horror film includes key elements that are present in King’s tale of repression, telekinesis and religion.

The film can also be seen as being influenced by the Richard Matheson tale “It’s a Good Life.” This Twilight Zone story (directed by James Sheldon) dealt with a young boy on a farm who holds his “terrified family” hostage with his incredibly powerful mental ability. The lad, played brilliantly by a young Billy Mumy, can literally “think” someone out of existence if they annoy him.

Thelma has mental powers but they have been repressed with a brand of zealous religion practiced by her family. When the girl goes off to college and starts to fall in love, the power re-emerges with a vengeance. Just before leaving her family, Thelma (Harboe) has a seizure and these become more prevalent at school.

We see the young woman cautiously spreading her wings as she meets Anja, played perfectly by Kaya Wilkins) and as the two become infatuated with one an other, Thelma has an increase in seizures and some disturbing visions/dreams.  Eventually she goes to a doctor for help and discovers that her grandmother, whom she believed was dead, suffers from the same problem. 

After being tested for epilepsy, Thelma tracks her grandmother down and starts remembering a tragic event from her childhood. Her father, Henrik Rafaelsen, a general practitioner, starts treating Thelma as her mother (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) uneasily watches from the sidelines. 

Thelma can be seen as a loss of innocence film, or a “coming of age” tale. Regardless of how the viewer opts to interpret this story, it is beautifully filmed and splendidly executed. At just under two hours, the film is a long one, but it never bores or drags.

The sequences where Thelma seeks help from the medical community do crawl but despite this, interest in the young protagonist does not wander. Trier gives us a plot and storyline that teases with flashbacks and ethereal connections between Anja and Thelma.

Harboe as the naive Thelma gives us just the right amount of wonder and dread as she starts to grow up outside the influence of her strict parents. We learn, as the film progresses, just why Trond and Unni keep close tabs on Thelma; they are already aware of what she is capable of doing.

The horror here is very low key. However,there are moments where it strikes fear right into the heart of the audience. These are not jump worthy moments by any means but the instances, a drowning and a moment underneath an icy lake, reduce us to a primal horror that stays long after the moment appears on screen.

Thelma, unlike “Carrie,” gives us a protagonist that is not a victim but is, rather, a young woman who has lived a sheltered life. There is a reason behind her earlier protected existence. This helps us to develop an empathy with the young girl and her increasing confusion.

This is a full 5 star film that grabs the viewer and draws them slowly into the world of Thelma. Norwegian, indeed Slavic films in general, are, at the moment, top notch and well worth sitting through, despite having subtitles. Check this one out as soon as you can.

Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead Sequel Gold

Film poster for Dead Snow 2.
Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead is the long awaited sequel to the 2009 Norwegian comedy horror film written and directed by Tommy Wirkola (Stig Frode co-wrote both films and this gold plated sequel also had Vegar Hoel working on the script.) This film follows the adventures of Martin (played again by Vegar Hoel) who was the unlikely survivor from the Dead Snow.

The first movie was about a group of friends who travel to the mountains for a skiing holiday and while they are staying in their cabin find Nazi gold hidden in a box under the floor. The second that any of the treasure leaves the box, a horde of zombie Nazis come out of the snow and begin killing off the holiday makers one-by-one.

For those who have not seen the first film, this is all covered in a short recap narrated by Martin himself. This time, the survivor is wanted by the police after they found all his dead friends up in the mountains. His fiancee, Hanna; who he accidentally killed with an ax, still has the weapon lodged in her throat, “with your fingerprints all over it,” the police detective smugly informs Martin.

On top of his immediate problems of being charged with multiple murders, he has had Herzog’s arm attached to his body, Herzog was the Nazi commander who led the undead soldiers. While recuperating in the hospital, handcuffed to his bed, Martin meets a young boy who is in contact with the US Zombie Squad. He talks the lad into releasing him only to kill the youngster with his zombie arm.

After trying, in a spectacular failure which results in obliterating any chance the boy had of recovering, to revive his new friend, Martin then talks to the zombie squad and they promise to arrive in Norway and save the day. The rest of the film deals with this disparate group trying to kill off the Nazi zombies as well as resurrecting a group of Russian zombies that Herzog had killed during the war to help them win this zombie battle.

At 100 minutes the sequel is that little bit longer than the first one. Overall, however, this does not matter in the least as the gags, and the gore, keep coming with machine gun rapidity that leaves the viewer gasping. The film’s humor runs from parody to full-on slapstick. Perhaps the only complaint was the decision to make the dialogue English versus Norwegian with subtitles.

It is surprising to hear Martin speaking English and while there are a few moment of confusion once the US Zombie Squad are introduced it all becomes clear why they dropped their native language and the subtitles. In all honesty, the film still works brilliantly and is funny regardless of the dialogue change.

Comparing the two films, it is obvious that the budget for number two is much bigger than the first one. The scope of the movie is much larger, no longer restricted to the snowy mountain setting from number one, this sequel roams across the Norwegian landscape through a village or two and back into those mountains.

In Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead, there are zombie fighting nerds, or geeks, a tank, the ability to touch dead people and turn them into zombies, or “recruiting” as Martin puts it at one point, and some local police who are very funny indeed.

Without resorting to any spoilers, there also seems to be a good chance for a Dead Snow 3 to become a reality. For those who loved the first two, this could be good news if they do not mess things up.

This is a real 5 out of 5 star film despite the odd things that make no sense, such as a museum tank having life rounds in it. Available on iTunes to stream and available on DVD.

7 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Jackpot (2011): Brilliant Black Comedy

Unknown

Written and directed by Magnus Martens and based on a story by Jo Nesbø, Jackpot is a hysterically funny film about the lack of honour among criminals and how one innocent man gets caught up in almost more than he can handle.

The film opens with two men in a police interviewing room in the Ostfold Police Station. One is covered in blood and bruises while the other man, who is in a suit, questions him. The first man is Oscar Svendson who one hour previously crawled out from under the body of a huge woman while clutching a shotgun, the only survivor of a massive shoot-out in the club.

As Oscar struggles to tell the police detective what happened we are treated to a flash-back. A car with three young men is going down the road.We see it drive into the car park of a strip-club/video store called Pink Heaven. The three young men jump out and trot through the door eagerly calling out, “Any pussy in here?” As the doors close on them, gunfire erupts and all three men are shot.

As the opening credits roll, we see the carnage left in the club and we meet the detective who will question Oscar later in the film.

The Cast:

Kyrre Hellum
Oscar Svendson
Mads Ousdal
Thor Eggen
Henrik Mestad
Solør
Arthur Berning
Billy Utomjordet

The Plot:

Oscar is a sort kind of Parole Officer/Supervisor in a “Halfway House” factory that employs ex-convicts when they are released from prison. The factory makes small plastic Christmas trees. Oscar enters a football pool with three of the ex-cons who work there. Thor, Dan, and Billy all fill in tickets and Oscar drops them off paying for all the men to play. Oscar’s girlfriend tells him to change the first team that they’ve chosen to win to a draw.

When the match is televised the teams do indeed play to a draw, Billy, Thor and Dan are furious until they find that Oscar had changed the first match bet. They win over 1.7 million on the pool. Unfortunately for Oscar, despite his good fortune, his troubles are just beginning.

Waiting for the results...
Waiting for the results… Oscar, Billy, Dan, and Thor.

The Device:

The film switches from interview room to flashback and certain “scenes of the crime” where the flashbacks must “marry up” with the story that Oscar relates to Police Detective Solor (Mestad). Each flashback features more hysterically funny bad luck on the part of Oscar.

The Twist:

By the end of the film you’re left asking; did it really happen that way?

The Verdict:

Rib-tickling fun. Despite the fact that the amount of gore and blood-letting in the film could equal a Takeshi Miike movie, the film is almost hysterically funny. The action, which could be described as overly violent slapstick is blackly funny and is helped by the dialogue which can range from dry dead-pan delivery to over-the-top hilarity.

At one point Oscar is relating something and he states that when Plan A failed they had to resort to Plan B. The detective asks, “What was Plan b?” Oscar responds, “Not very good.” Very, very funny.

Due to the amount of violence and death; blood and gore; and some pretty gruesomely funny means of body disposal the film can only be classified as a black comedy. Jackpot has to be the funniest crime film I’ve seen in ages and I am amazed that Hollywood has not already snapped this film up for a remake.

A real gut-busting 5 stars out of 5 for a brilliant mix of hilarity and death. Proving once again that the Scandinavian countries don’t just write good crime fiction, but, they make great films as well.

Don’t miss it.

Going over the crime scene.
Going over the crime scene…Oscar and Detective Solor.