Friday, February 23, 2018

Rank 'Em: The 2017 Best Picture Nominees

Well, I did manage to watch all the Best Picture nominees in time, but there's no way I'm going to be able to post all the reviews in time.  So, we'll just have to settle for a "Rank 'Em" post.  Frankly, this year has been a puzzler, and I have no idea how the frontrunners have turned out to be two of the weaker contenders.  But, more on that below.

Get Out - Once in a while, exactly the right film comes along at exactly the right time.  Jordan Peele's horror comedy, about the hidden dangers faced by a black man in America, does a fantastic job of being scary, funny, and insightful.  But more than that, it challenges and plays on the audience's expectations in such a way that demands self-examination.  This is also the most purely entertaining film of the nominees, with the kind of punch-the-air finale that I haven't seen executed so well in ages.   

Lady Bird - All the usual tropes of a coming-of age movie are present and accounted for, but "Lady Bird" isn't just about its title character, or her coming-of-age.  There are so many little details and so many little stories crammed in here, building this wonderful portrait of Sacramento and the socio-economic anxieties of the past decade.  It's also the rare examination of a mother-daughter relationship that captures all simultaneous affection and aggravation of two people on the verge of having to let go.

Phantom Thread - A truly wonderful surprise as its hidden layers reveal themselves.  Paul Thomas Anderson's period melodrama initially seems to be throwback to older domestic pictures, but there's nothing old fashioned about our heroine, Alma, or her relationship with a difficult, set-in-his-ways dressmaker.  Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day-Lewis are fantastic together, playing scenes of incredible tension and emotional conflict.  If this must be the swan song for Anderson, it's a satisfying one.

Dunkirk - The best piece of cinema spectacle of the year.  Christopher Nolan and his collaborators beautifully execute grand scale epic filmmaking in their recreation of the Dunkirk evacuation.  The film's structure with the different time scales is a gimmick, but one that is made to work to the film's advantage.  There are inevitable weaknesses to this approach to the material, namely that it's difficult to connect to any of the characters.  However, as a purely visceral experience, "Dunkirk" delivers.

Call Me By Your Name - A tender first love plays out over the course of a lazy Italian summer in this atmospheric, nostalgic romance.  The combination of Luca Gugadino's sensual direction and a delicate James Ivory script is a winner.  However, it's really the ensemble that makes the movie, with special kudos to Timothee Chalamet as Elio, and Michael Stuhlbarg stealing the picture as his father.  Alas, the sheer length of the movie wore on me, and many of its charms simply weren't to my tastes.   

Darkest Hour - I'm generally a fan of Joe Wright's showy directorial flourishes, and there are certainly plenty of them here.  However, they don't overshadow the Gary Oldman performance that is central to the picture.  Some of the liberties taken with the historical record are entirely too precious, and Winston Churchill surely doesn't need so much breathless lionizing.  But overall, the film is a very effective piece of patriotic prestige drama and makes for a decent counterpart to "Dunkirk" as well.  

The Shape of Water - I adore so many of the pieces of this film and the sentiments behind them.  However, the execution is another matter.  The scripting is just dire in some places, and far too much time is spent on secondary characters to the detriment of the central romance.  There are enough good performances, lovely ideas, and fascinating images here that I thoroughly enjoyed the film.  It could have been a far, far better one, though, if Guillermo Del Toro had been a little more focused.  

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - Martin McDonagh's usual pet peeves and bad habits are all over this movie.  He did do one big thing right, however, which is the character of Mildred.  And it's mostly Frances McDormand's performance that makes this Midwestern parable about the dangers of misdirected anger worth watching.  This isn't a bad feature by any measure, with its timely messages and severely imperfect protagonists.  At the same time, I'm not sure it's any good either.  

The Post - These polished Steven Spielberg history lessons have gotten so predictable, they're more impressive to hear described than to actually watch.  So while it's hard to find fault with anything specific, and there are lots of little pleasures to be found, so much of "The Post" felt like a laborious exercise in historical re-enactment and homage to better films.  Alan J. Pakula's "All the President's Men" is evoked several times, but alas none of that feature's grit and gumption rubbed off on this one.   


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

My Favorite François Truffaut Movie

For a long time, I couldn't understand why François Truffaut was considered one of the greats. His films didn't seem to me to be all that technically accomplished. They had no particularly distinct style aside from being recognizably part of the French New Wave. Thematically, Truffaut was all over the place, making several films about love and romance, crime pictures, dramas, and an uneven adaptation of Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451." I dutifully watched over a dozen of his movies, and I enjoyed some and was cool on others. And recently, I went and rewatched several of the most famous titles, and I finally figured it out.

There's a special emotional realism to François Truffaut characters. This is clear from his very first film, "The 400 Blows," which charts the difficult life of a Parisian boy named Antoine Doinel, played by Jean-Pierre Léaud. Antoine is frequently truant at school, or misbehaves and commits petty thefts. The teacher doesn't like him and his self-involved parents misunderstand him, fueling Antoine's delinquency. After multiple misadventures and disciplinary problems, including running away from home, he's arrested and packed off to reform school. Despite Antoine never expressing remorse or changing his ways, our sympathies remain with him throughout.

Truffaut would revisit Antoine again and again over two decades, resulting in a series of four films and a short segment for a compilation feature. Each of these episodes have different conflicts, but at their root, they are about Antoine's struggles to reconcile his own rebellious nature with the uncomfortable restrictions of life and society. Punishment for bad behavior is often the result of bad luck. Earnest efforts to be good often backfire, like when he tries to express his appreciation for Balzac, or returns stolen property. Nearly all the boys at Antoine's school share the same propensity for mischief. Many of the classroom scenes recall Jean Vigo's "Zero for Conduct," which Truffaut was a professed admirer of. Or there's the classic sequence where the teacher leads his charges on an outing through the city, and the line of boys keeps getting shorter and shorter as they devise ways to run off.

Young Jean-Pierre Léaud delivers a performance that is instrumental to the film's success. He was only thirteen at the time he was cast, yet already had such a strong onscreen presence that it's no wonder that he went on to a long and storied film career. In "The 400 Blows," he has a rough, precocious charm when interacting with his clueless parents or deceiving his schoolmasters, but also displays an aching vulnerability when his life begins to fall apart. The famous final shot of the film, with Antoine at the seaside, zooms in on his enigmatic expression. Are we meant to see him as triumphant or victimized? Some claim that he's breaking the fourth wall, implicating the audience in his misdeeds. One thing is clear - he is not to be sentimentalized, something that Truffaut had railed against when critiquing similar films featuring troubled children.

One of the defining features of the French New Wave is filmmaking as “cinema in the first person singular.” So while "The 400 Blows" doesn't have many of the stylistic features that other New Wave films have, it is considered emblematic of the movement because it is such a deeply personal film. Antoine's circumstances and many of the events depicted were based directly on Truffaut's early life as a disaffected child and youth. It comes across as such an honest portrayal of childhood because it views the world subjectively from a child's point of view without ever imposing the moral judgments of an adult.

You can see a similar attitude in the treatment of the characters in many of Truffaut's other films - the unconventional youth of "Jules and Jim," the feral boy in "The Wild Child," and of course the further adventures of Antoine Doinel trying to navigate romantic relationships in "Stolen Kisses" and "Bed and Board." However, the legacy of "The 400 Blows" is more acutely felt in so many of the screen portrayals of children from that point on, everything from "Kes" to "Harry Potter." The remarkable thing about Antoine Doinel was that he was allowed to act like a real child, and exist on the screen on his own terms.

What I've Seen - François Truffaut

The 400 Blows (1959)
Shoot the Piano Player (1960)
Jules and Jim (1962)
Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
The Bride Wore Black (1968)
Stolen Kisses (1968)
The Wild Child (1970)
Bed and Board (1970)
Two English Girls (1971)
Day for Night (1973)
The Story of Adele H. (1975)
The Green Room (1978)
Love on the Run (1979)
The Last Metro (1980)
The Woman Next Door (1981)


Monday, February 19, 2018

Back to the Beginning With "Mindhunter"

Like much of the American public, I've watched an awful lot of media about serial killers, from "Silence of the Lambs" to the early seasons of "Criminal Minds." And from them, I've learned about the techniques and terminology that go with the investigations of these killers, along with the predictable storytelling formulas that have developed around them over the years. As a fan of crime dramas, though, they usually still work for me, and I have few complaints.

Still, it was nice to discover that Netflix's "Mindhunter" series, created by Joe Penhall, found a way to upend the formulas and approach the material from a new angle. The series is set in the 1970s, back in the days when Charles Manson and David Berkowitz signalled the emergence of a new kind of criminal, and the FBI was just beginning to grapple with the science of criminal psychology. A pair of agents, Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) start interviewing known "sequence killers," compiling data that will eventually lead to the development of what we know today as criminal profiling. A psychology professor, Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) eventually joins them, as their information starts being put to use in solving real murder cases.

The first episode, which sets up Holden as a young upstart agent who asks too many questions, and pairs him with a bohemian post-grad girlfriend, Debbie (Hannah Gross), is awfully creaky. However, in the second episode, when Holden interviews his first subject, Edmund Kemper (Cameron Britton), things get very interesting in a hurry. While all the FBI characters are composites based on various people, the killers like Kemper and Richard Speck (Jack Erdie) are all real, and the interviews are often adapted from real transcripts as well. "Mindhunter" carefully avoids showing any violence onscreen, and even most of the aftermath is only glimpsed via photos and news clippings. However, simply having the characters discuss violence in very frank terms proves to be riveting stuff. Cameron Britton's performance as Ed Kemper in particular is fantastic, walking a very fine line between jovial and terrifying.

It's a shame that the rest of the series isn't up to the same level. The interactions among the three leads, and the FBI office politics yield some good things. However, the personal lives of the agents are fairly rote and uninteresting, and the writers aren't particularly successful at getting us invested in any of their other relationships. Holden and Debbie's scenes, for instance, have generated nothing but complaints from viewers impatient to get back to the interview room. Even some of the active cases we see play out feel like filler. I think part of the problem is that the show's structure is so fast and loose, it often feels like a different kind of series from episode to episode. One installment feels like an investigation-centric police mystery, and the next feels like a "Mad Men" style period drama. There are also a series of oddly placed scenes featuring an unnamed character who we'll probably learn is an active serial killer next season.

One thing that is consistently strong is the style, which is bleak and desaturated and very reminiscent of the 2007 serial killer film "Zodiac." And no wonder, since David Fincher is an executive producer of "Mindhunter" and directed four of the ten episodes. With gloomy lighting, stark art direction, and some excellent casting of minor characters, he does a great job of creating a version of the 1970s that is both nostalgic and grimly unpleasant. There's often a sense of these small, cozy towns being invaded by a new breed of violence wrought by criminals who don't follow the old rules of behavior. And while the visuals are rarely flashy, occasionally you'll get an eye-catching sequence like the montage in the second episode, detailing the wearing nature of too much interstate travel.

So there are lots of good pieces that have been set up in "Mindhunter" that I'm hopeful can be better deployed in a smoother, and more effective second season. The first is good enough that I'd recommend a watch, but there's potential for something much better there that I hope the show's creators can figure out how to take better advantage of.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

"Detroit" and "Dunkirk"

I knew nothing about the 1967 Detroit riots going into "Detroit," and even less about the Algiers Motel killings. So I was grateful that director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal provided some context for the events, including a short history lesson on American race relations told through a crude animated prologue. However, this push to establish the importance of the events of "Detroit" in American history are also what ultimately end up undermining it badly.

When the film is in the thick of the action, recreating the notorious police raid on the Algiers Motel, it's excellent. The tension is visceral, and the performances are great. There's a good balance between the POVs of the police officers and their victims. The highlights of the ensemble cast include Will Poulter's wonderfully hateable Phillip Krauss, the main instigator of the abuses, while Algee Smith and Jacob Latimore play Motown singer Larry Reed and his friend Fred Temple respectively, two of the detained black suspects. Unfortunately, "Detroit" also decides to dramatize the court case that resulted in the aftermath of the event, which means the film switches gears to a different type of narrative completely. Ultimately the whole thing feels overlong and ungainly, trying to include too much material and serve too many interests. The film clearly wants to be respectful of all the cultural issues involved, and emphasize the systemic flaws that resulted in the tragedy, but it's not particularly successful at this.

I found that the oddest decision was giving only Larry Reed's character a fully fleshed out character arc. The other characters get spotlighted, but most feel truncated or badly planned out. John Boyega, for instance, plays Melvin Dismukes, a black security guard who is a major witness at the Algiers. The film certainly gives him the narrative space and attention to be a major character, but he just comes off as a passive bystander. The script gives him very little to actually do, and we never get any semblance of a full emotional arc for him. Similarly, there are also some good moments with characters played by Anthony Mackie, Hannah Murray, and Jack Reynor, but we don't spend enough time with them for their appearances to actually have much impact on the larger narrative. As impressive as all the historical recreations are and as infuriating as the injustice is to witness, there's a fundamental lack of the kind of emotionally connective pieces that would really help this all hit home.

Now, this is not a problem with Christopher Nolan's "Dunkirk," which is altogether a much slicker and more entertaining feature, heavily dependent on epic spectacle and the kind of grandiose Hollywood gilding of momentous events that can easily result in mindless pabulum. Nolan largely manages to avoid being overly sentimental by constructing the film as yet another of his exercises in nonlinear storytelling, and spending the bulk of his efforts on making all the pieces fit together as a coherent narrative, heavy on the action scenes.

Dunkirk consists of three different stories. In one storyline, the soldiers on the beach at Dunkirk await evacuation, which takes place over the course of a week. Our POV character is an English private named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), who eventually joins other soldiers, Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) and Alex (Harry Styles), as they seek a way home. In the second, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), owner of a small private vessel, sails with his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and their friend George (Barry Keoghan), to aid the rescue efforts. Their story takes place over the course of one day. Finally, fighter pilots Collins (Jack Lowden) and Farrier (Tom Hardy) engage with German air forces over Dunkirk, over the course of one hour. The three storylines occasionally intersect, but it isn't until the ending that they all properly converge.

Technically, the film is a marvel, full of expansive shots of the sea and sky, multiple aerial dogfights, sinking and burning ships shot from every angle imaginable, and the teeming masses of soldiers constantly in peril. WWII locations and military hardware are recreated in exhaustive detail. However, what I found really impressive was the leanness of the scripting and the efficiency of the filmmaking. "Dunkirk" runs only 106 minutes, one of Nolan's shortest features, and there's hardly a wasted second. He manages to make each of the stories compelling individually, yet completely distinct from each other in style, and then slowly ratchets up the tension simultaneously across all three of them as we reach the last act. Compounding thrills are expertly deployed to a Hans Zimmer score that pumps up the tension with ticking beats and uneasy strings.

The characters are thinly drawn by necessity, and yet there's still room here for Mark Rylance's reassuringly steadfast Mr. Dawson, and Kenneth Branagh's unflappable Commander Bolton. Like "Detroit," there were plenty of others that could have used more fleshing out, but the difference here is that Christopher Nolan had a much better handle on showing us what was unfolding at Dunkirk on a broader scale and using his characters to reflect specific experiences and themes more cleanly. And the storytelling is tighter, smarter, and far more impactful. So when we come to the moments of patriotism and pride at the finale, accompanied by the gorgeous hero shots and exultant music, they feel earned.


Thursday, February 15, 2018

In the Mire of "Mudbound"

It's getting harder and harder to dismiss Netflix distributed films, as they keep acquiring or funding films that demand attention. Because of the deluge of end-of-the-year prestige films, I've decided not to write about Noah Baumbach's "The Meyerowitz Stories" or Angelina Jolie's "First They Killed My Father," though I liked both. There was one title, however, that I had to put down some thoughts on.

The Mississippi delta is the setting for an uneasy period piece about two families, one black and one white. The black Jackson family are tenant farmers, working the land in the hopes of one day buying land and escaping their extreme poverty. Hap (Rob Morgan) is married to Florence (Mary J. Blige), and their plans are complicated when Hap becomes injured and unable to work. The white McAllan family has fallen on hard times, and are inexperienced as new landowners. Henry (Jason Clarke) brings his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan), their children, and his disagreeable father (Jonathan Banks) out to Mississippi, and they all have difficulty adjusting. Both families send a young man to WWII, the Jacksons' oldest son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) and Henry's brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund), and their returns spark deepening tensions and dangerous resentments.

What immediately sets "Mudbound" apart from other films about the racial divide is its unusual intimacy. We learn about the inner lives of the six main characters through extensive voice over, each providing different perspectives on the situation, and humanizing each player. Laura is particularly interesting, a woman in a loveless marriage trapped in a place that she hates, but who unwittingly becomes part of the system of oppression that further harms Hap and Florence. She's very sympathetic, but also infuriating because she's so deeply ignorant about the consequences of her actions. The two characters who have the most perspective on the situation are Ronsel and Jamie, who have been overseas and recognize that the status quo in Mississippi is unjust. And the friendship that develops between them becomes a welcome respite from all the misery that the rest of the film portrays.

"Mudbound" is the third film from director Dee Rees, who doesn't shy away from showing us just how awful life was for everyone in this community. She and cinematographer Rachel Morrison present a flat, empty, bleak world that compounds the hostility and racism permeating everything. The visuals are dingy and brown, full of sweat and mud. The first half of "Mudbound" takes some effort to get through because it's fairly slow going and often uncomfortable to watch, as all the characters' are introduced and their lives converge in unhappy ways. However, once the film focuses more on Ronsel and Jamie, the two characters who seem to have real prospects for better things, it becomes more engrossing. And even though very ugly things happen, the film is ultimately far more hopeful and elevating than I expected.

The assembled cast is very strong, with Jason Mitchell and Mary J. Blige as the stand-outs. Blige is almost unrecognizable as Florence, who is at the bottom of the social order, but sharply perceptive and the backbone of her family. However, Ronsel has by far the strongest and most compelling narrative, wrestling with his loyalty to his family and his anger at the racist systems they suffer under. Mitchell is able to project a constant air of quiet strength and competence, which serves him in both his quieter bonding scenes with Hedlund, and the more explosive, violent confrontations at the film's climax. I also like Carey Mulligan and Garrett Hedlund, but next to the Jacksons, their material feels overly familiar and underdeveloped.

"Mudbound" is not entirely successful, but it gives a different voice and a different perspective on the black struggle through a fairly unique lens. It manages to combine WWII and post-Civil War stories, very personal portraits with broader epic visions, and glimpses of the depths of human depravity with the heights of spiritual triumph. So I'll happily overlook the obvious shortfalls in the budget, the unsatisfying or too-convenient fates of some of the characters, pacing troubles, and all the cultural baggage of trying to parse yet another uncomfortable piece of art about race in America. This is a difficult but worthwhile film, and one that I'm very glad that I was able to see.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Resurrections of "Blade Runner"

Returning to the world of Ridley Scott's 1982 science-fiction noir "Blade Runner" was a tall order, not only because the film is so highly regarded by its fans, but because it remains such a niche classic, only really beloved by the cinema geeks. Denis Villeneuve not only had to live up to the lofty technical and aesthetic triumphs of the original, but to make it accessible to a wider audience. The "TRON" sequel from a few years back was faced with a similar challenge and stumbled. "Blade Runner 2049" fares better, but only up to a point.

Decades after the events of the original "Blade Runner," the bioengineered humans called "replicants" are still being made, but have been redesigned to be more compliant. Still, a few of the older models are still being chased down by a "blade runner," a replicant named K (Ryan Gosling), who works with the LAPD. After one assignment, K discovers the remains of a replicant who has given birth, something which should be impossible. He is charged by his superior, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright), with finding and destroying the child. Meanwhile, sinister replicant creator Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) sends out his own replicant agent, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), to locate the child for his own purposes.

Most of the major characters in the story aren't human beings, and tend to behave terribly stoically, though there are indications that they have wants and hopes similar to humans. Perhaps the most expressive character is Joi (Ana de Armas), K's hologram girlfriend, who is eager to provide all types of affection despite not having a physical form. However, we spend the bulk of our time with K on his investigation, slowly exploring the fascinating dystopia where "Blade Runner" takes place. Though Ryan Gosling is very good in the role, K is simply not a particularly charismatic character, and the narrative is so slow-paced, that it takes a long while to set up the stakes and build up any real momentum.

The main pleasures of the film, then, are in observing the film's worldbuilding. With cinematography by Roger Deakins, "Blade Runner 2049" is full of absolutely astounding visuals. The visions of the murky, urban Los Angeles futurescape are reimagined and expanded on, and we get to visit drastically changed versions of San Diego as a vast garbage dump and Las Vegas as a desert wasteland too. There are also several beautifully conceived and executed set-pieces that show off the film's effects work. One involves a woman whose job it is to design replicant memories. Another involves a love scene with holographic Joi superimposed on top of a flesh and blood woman. Yet another involves a fight scene that takes place in the midst of a malfunctioning holographic stage show.

The film's best trick, however, is resurrecting a character from the 1982 "Blade Runner" in a manner that "TRON Legacy" attempted, but didn't quite get right. It's a feat that viewers of the original film will best appreciate, though, which I suspect may hold true for nearly everything about "Blade Runner 2049." Denis Villeneuve has done a marvelous job of bringing the "Blade Runner" universe back to life, and tackling many of the same themes and ideas from the first film in new and interesting ways. However, I'm not so convinced that it stands on its own as a separate entity. Narratively, it feels like a connector piece, at its best when it's either directly evoking the past or hinting at possible sequels. I never thought I'd be comparing the structure to "Inherent Vice," or all things, but in the end, so much is similarly left unresolved, unanswered, and unremarked upon.

And yet, I really do love many things in the film - Ryan Gosling and Sylvia Hoeks' performances, the design of Wallace's offices, and the impossible, unforgettable landscape shots of a crumbling future civilization. There's nothing here to equal Roy Batty in the rain, but there's no shortage of memorable ideas and surprising risks taken. The respect and admiration that the filmmakers clearly had for the original film is apparent in every single frame. I was skeptical about a "Blade Runner" sequel, but while I have my reservations, this is a far, far better result than I was expecting.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

"Thelma" Goes to Dark Places

After watching so many superhero films and shows recently about young people with supernatural powers, I'd gotten used to the portrayal of them in very lighthearted, positive terms. So I was caught off guard completely by the Norwegian horror thriller "Thelma," which spins the darkest, most chilling story about a telekinetic girl that I've ever seen.

Eili Harboe plays Thelma, newly off to college and having some trouble making friends. Her strict religious parents, Trond (Henrik Rafaelsen) and Unni (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) are very controlling, and Thelma is reluctant to tell them when she starts experiencing unexplained seizures and strange visions. Objects move and lights are affected by her presence in this state. She also doesn't mention that she's falling in love with a classmate, Anja (Kaya Wilkins), whose attentions seem to trigger Thelma's attacks.

Initially I was going to pair up this review with Julia Ducournau's "Raw," which is also about exploring the maturation of a young woman at college through the lens of genre cinema. However, "Raw" didn't get under my skin the way that "Thelma" did, or leave me genuinely conflicted about what had transpired. And though I liked "Raw," it's not nearly as strong a piece of cinema as "Thelma." It doesn't have the same psychological gulfs or absorbing visuals. Director Joachim Trier made a trio of very intimate contemporary dramas before this, films that I appreciated, but didn't really connect with. Here, he's trying his hand at more stylized imagery, including quite a bit of CGI-aided special effects work. And it's stunning to look at, full of deep shadows, ominously flickering lights, and frozen winter landscapes.

Likewise, the performances are excellent. Eili Harboe is wonderful as Thelma, particularly in the scenes where she's in turmoil, struggling for control. She has the ability to be vulnerable and likable one moment, and then utterly frightening the next while hardly changing her expression. Some of her best scenes are the phone conversations, where you can see Thelma weighing how much to tell her parents, and not quite being able to hide her real emotions. I also enjoyed Henrik Rafaelsen and Ellen Dorrit Petersen, especially as their characters reveal more dimensions as the film goes on. Rafaelson remains so subtly menacing throughout the whole film, even when he's at his most paternal. At the same time, it's clear why Thelma loves and trusts him, up until the point where they inevitably must clash.

"Thelma" has been described in some of the marketing as a lesbian love story, and this isn't inaccurate. There are some fantastic early scenes built around Thelma and Anja's relationship, particularly a trip to the theater that literally almost brings down the house. However, it is also a film about faith and morality and terror, both immediate and existential. I found Thelma's complex interactions with her parents far more compelling than any of her fairly run-of-the-mill sexual awakening encounters with Anja. It's Trond and Unni who have to grapple with Thelma's powers and afflictions in the most painful terms. There are significant sections of the film where they are positioned as the protagonists, and it's left ambiguous as to whether Thelma or her parents are ultimately more deserving of our sympathies.

I'll caution that the film goes into territory that I wasn't expecting, and gets very dark very quickly. We move from Thelma slowly starting to break the rules and flex her independence at school, which is fun and amusing, to the anxiety of the exam table as she tries to uncover the cause of her seizures, to some of the most deeply upsetting and traumatic things I've seen on film, lurking in Thelma's past and subconscious (and I watched Aronofsky's "mother!" this year). I'll also caution that "Thelma" has deep roots in arthouse film, much like Robert Eggers' "The Witch," and is full of coded symbolism and unanswered questions.

So approach with care. However, the film had its intended effect, and I found "Thelma" to be the best version of the female coming-of-age through supernatural crisis films I've ever seen. It's not as iconic as "Carrie," but I haven't been able to get its nightmare visions out of my head, or shake the chill that it's left in my bones.