Deep in the snow covered fields of a Norwegian village, a father takes his young daughter hunting. But, rather than focus on the deer in his crosshairs, the father looks at his young child… and briefly considers shooting her in the head. Fast-forward ten years and the girl, the titular Thelma (Eili Harboe), is moving to Oslo where she’s enrolling in college. Introverted and shy, Thelma will struggle to make friends, particularly given the nature of her over-bearing parents.

Apparently god-fearing, her mother and father insist on their only daughter checking in regularly, reporting on her movements and friendships. They don’t seem to approve of much, and it’s probably about time Thelma cut them loose. This is especially apparent when Thelma is approached by another girl, Anja (Kaya Wilkins), and given the opportunity to spread her wings.

And while we’re rooting for Thelma to take control of her life, to drink a beer and swear to until her heart’s content, there’s an uneasy feeling. A kind of tension surrounding Thelma, not to mention the odd moment of avian suicide and chandelier fear as her relationship with Ana develops. And we want to know why…

The frostbitten atmosphere of Norway, similar to that of the another hit Scandinavian horror, Let The Right One In, is an ideal backdrop for director Joachim Trier’s tale of a girl finding herself, only to be horrified at what she discovers. The cold, stark imagery aligns nicely with the audience’s inability to warm to Thelma, despite her obvious, desperate need for help.

It would be easy to write Thelma off as Carrie Goes To College, given the similarities to Stephen King’s seminal horror story, but Trier’s script offers more than a rehash of a well-worn plot. And while Trier is inclined to deliver the odd cliche (sparrows flying into windows is a bit “Waaaallllt!”), such beats can be forgiven, or even embraced, thanks to the writer/ director’s taut storytelling. He teases out the story methodically and patiently, slipping in flashbacks to paint the background to Thelma’s odd behaviour and keeping the audience guessing as to who exactly the bad guy is, if indeed there really is one.

By the end you might begin to realise that what you’ve been watching isn’t exactly what you thought it was. Not only does Thelma boast a wonderfully satisfying pay-off, but the journey through those icy fields is equally as thrilling.