Thale (Blu-ray / DVD)
Directed by Aleksander Nordaas
Thrillers based around mythological concepts and folklore are a rare breed and a subset of a genre that has yet to fully explore the horror that exists deep in the marrow of literally hundreds of cultures around the world. The beauty of these tales lies in their flexibility; they’re dark and often violent, yet with an emotional resonance that is, unfortunately, often overlooked. In the Norwegian thriller Thale, however, writer/director Aleksander L. Nordaas explores the folklore behind the Scandinavian tale of the huldra with a delicate hand that belies its low budget, creating an emotionally powerful film that quickly devolves into convention.
Thale focuses on Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) and Elvis (Erlend Nervold), a pair of crime scene clean-up lackeys cleaning up the remnants of an old man in an isolated home in the Norwegian woods. His body has been scattered about, and in the process of seeking out the rest of him, the two stumble upon a hidden basement filled to the brim with documents and all manner of medical devices. Their exploration quickly reveals the existence of Thale (Silje Reinåmo), a beautiful young woman being kept alive by a series of hoses in a milk bath.
Through a tape deck discovered by Elvis, it is revealed that she has been under the care of a nameless man who “rescued” her after discovering her in the woods. As the film plays out, we’re given glimpses of what happened to her, told both through flashback and voice over, slowly illuminating her history and the experiments the man performed her for a number of years. Although she was locked away, she was not forgotten, with the rest of her sylvan brethren - and others - looking for her since her disappearance.
Thale is an effective psychological thriller, with Nordaas, taking on the role as director of photography and editor, slowly ramping up the suspense through an emotional voice over and a touch of the supernatural; a gimmick, sure, but one that is seemingly necessary given the confines of the film’s low budget. Although heavily reliant on the voice over to reveal the true nature of Thale’s past, it’s never overly expository, slowly revealing not just the how and the why of her captivity, but the nature of Leo and Elvis’s relationship as well. It never feels like a gimmick, and that alone helps sustain the bulk of the film.
Despite a strong second act, Thale is slow to start, culminating in a contrived third act involving a team of government operatives who are seeking Thale with an urgency that is never truly explained; it seems tacked on, adding more confusion to a film that refuses to spell anything out to the viewer. Toss in some blood and a full reveal of the huldra lurking in the woods and you have a textbook thriller ending that diminishes the emotion the bulk of the film attempts to convey.
Spending half its time in a decrepit bunker, Thale might not seem like much to look at, but given its budget, Nordaas has crafted an exceedingly beautiful film, albeit one that doesn’t make full use of the gorgeous Norwegian countryside. Its lazy ending notwithstanding, Thale is the type of film that encourages repeated viewings, if not to fully grasp the puzzling narrative, than to relish in its attempt to break the mold and explore avenues often ignored.
3 1/2 out of 5
1/2 out of 5