I’ve noticed something of a trend in many Scandinavian horror films, and that’s a penchant for mining the wells of folklore for their subject matter. Whether it be the witches of Next Door (Naboer), the lumbering beasties of Trollhunter, or the twisted take on the Santa Claus mythology of Rare Exports, the films of our Northern neighbors have captivated viewers worldwide with their skillful and exotic blend of fright film tropes and fairy tale whimsy.
With the low-budget Norwegian production, Thale, we’re given another antagonist pulled from the pages of Norwegian folklore, and delivered in manner that’s at once heart-wrenching, horrific, and humorous.
Old friends Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) and Elvis (Erlend Nervold) are members of a crime scene clean-up crew assigned to a remote cabin in the woods where an elderly shut-in’s remains have been found spread out around the property. Elvis, who is standing in for one of Leo’s fellow employees, is understandably sickened and horrified by the task at hand, but Leo takes it all in stride, instructing his friend to scour the area to look for any bits of the deceased that may have been scattered around by the local fauna. Whilst clearing out a seemingly innocuous wood shed, Elvis happens upon a hidden door, and, despite Leo’s insistence he not open it, decides to investigate. Within, he finds a stairway down into an underground bunker, filled with cans of expired foodstuffs, specimen jars, and a makeshift office whose walls are adorned with photographs and drawings detailing the anatomy of something not quite human. Beside the desk lay a tub filled with a milky white fluid, and hoses hooked up to a bizarre collection of machinery.
It’s obvious that bad things went down in this place, and the usually unflappable Leo wants no part of it. Leo insists Elvis not touch anything while he goes off to call their supervisor, but, when Elvis happens upon a tape recorder, his curiosity gets the best of him, and he decides to play back what’s on the tapes. Once Elvis presses play, he hears the piercing cries of a woman that awaken something beneath the surface of the opaque liquid in the tub. Leo comes to investigate just as a nude woman (Silje Reinåmo) bursts forth from the tub, ripping one of the hoses out of her mouth, and then collapses in shock.
While Leo rummages through the basement for something to cover the woman with, Elvis continues to listen to the tapes, which, at first, sound like the rantings of a madman. However, when it becomes apparent that this beautiful creature isn’t all that she seems, Leo and Elvis find themselves caught between Thale and both those who want to possess her, as well as those who want to take her back to the world from which she came.
Thale is a gorgeously shot and marvelously efficient little horror-fantasy that, while a bit deliberate in terms of pacing, is unique in that there’s an emphasis on character rarely seen in films like this. With just a few lines, we really get to know (and care about) childhood friends Elvis and Leo, each of whom have a secret they’ve kept from one another during what is suggested was a long period of time apart, while Thale, herself, speaks volumes without uttering so much as a single word. The cast is fantastic, with the ethereal Reinåmo making for a truly haunting and tragic protagonist, while Skard and Nervold, as her put-upon protectors, have great chemistry that makes their friendship believable and really fortified my investment in their well-being. Director, Aleksander Nordaas, does wonders with his limited budget, limiting much of the film to a pair of tiny sets, but the film’s monetary restraints are evident when it’s time to reveal Thale’s “people” as the CGI work is a bit dodgy and unrefined. I was also a bit letdown by the human antagonists as their inclusion, here, felt like a bit of an afterthought. Still, even these minor missteps aren’t enough to detract from what is, otherwise, an enthralling, unique, and gorgeously filmed dark fairy tale.
Thale comes to DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of XLrator Films, and is presented with both 5.1 Dolby Digital Norwegian and 2.0 Dolby Stero English audio tracks, English subtitles, and a trailer for the film.