Thale (2012)
By: Fin H. on November 22, 2013 | Comments
Vendetta Films | Region 4, PAL | 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced) | Norwegian DD 5.1 | 74 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Aleksander Nordaas
Starring: Silje Reinňmo, Erlend Nervold, Jon Sigve Skard
Screenplay: Aleksander Nordaas
Country: Norway
This little gem (pronounced tah-luh), which enthralled me at the A Night of Horror International Film Festival in Sydney earlier this year, has already begun to draw comparisons with its compatriot Troll Hunter. Although they are ostensibly utterly dissimilar, they do both tap into a rich vein of Scandinavian folklore (in this case the huldra – a forest spirit which takes the form of a beautiful woman with a cow's tail) and have shady government agencies tampering with their respective mythological entities. They are both also imbued with an abundance of wit, charm and creativity in portraying the collision of civilisation with the supernatural realm.

Our two central protagonists are a pair of crime scene cleaners: the feckless, impulsive Elvis (who spends a great deal of his working day chucking his guts up and is played by Erlend Nervold) and the droll, reserved Leo (Jon Sigve Skard). Special mention needs to be made of Skard's performance; as the more senior of the pair he has scant few lines, but communicates volumes through body language – the inquisitive incline of the head, the barely perceptible raise of the eyebrow – and hints at hidden depths of surging emotion operating below Leo's placid, unruffled exterior (which will come into play when he reveals a great personal secret in the second act). Elvis is similarly sensitive and good natured but impetuous and cut from a much more callow cloth, so when the two are called out to an old cabin in the woods (no, not that one) where an old man has carked it and been "spread around" by the local fauna, we can rely on Elvis to start digging into dusty corners, pulling levers, solving puzzle boxes and leafing through sinister, dusty tomes.

So it is that we discover the titular Thale, immersed in a bathtub full of some sort of milky amniotic fluid which somehow camouflages her from the prying eyes of the aforementioned shady governmental types. Silje Reinåmo is superb as Thale, possessed of an earthy, gamine beauty and exhibiting a feral, animalistic look in her eyes which completely sells the idea of a being completely unsullied by civilisation. The production design on the cabin, incidentally, is splendid, and it looks authentically aged and distressed.

In truth, there is precious little story to divulge; the guys find Thale, the heartless, armed government meanies are on the scene shortly thereafter, stuff happens, and so we conclude our - ahem – tale. It would be hard to refute the notion that the faceless scientific/paramilitary goons who show up are a ten-legged plot device straight out of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (except somebody neglected to digitally replace their carbines with walkie-talkies) and that the events presented occur pretty much by rote, but that's missing the point of what kind of film this is. Clocking in at barely an hour and a quarter, Thale is more of a vignette than a structured narrative, and the joy of it derives from watching something magical happen rather than wondering if Thale has been paid off by the Tattaglias or if Laszlo knows that Elvis has the letters of transit.

There is also something of a dearth of what most would call horror on display (unless you're, like, really easily horrified). Again, this is not a shortcoming but is rather simply indicative of what sort of cow-tailed beast Thale is. Thale's sylvan kinsfolk make their presence strongly felt throughout the film, but only show up right at the end, looking sort of like a hybrid of the faun from Pan's Labyrinth and Gollum. Whilst they're presented as otherworldly and threatening, the only real monster in the movie is an old white guy with gun-toting minions at his disposal (insert right-on sociopolitical comment here). The presence of said minions does, however, spark off a rather nicely executed action sequence, in which hyper-kinesis is replaced by super slow-motion and all manner of wince-inducing, bone-crunching mayhem befalls people in queasily lingering shots.

Ultimately, Thale is as elemental a force of nature as her less humanised brethren, and is more of a plot point than a character. The real story is to be found within the touching big brother/little brother dynamic between Leo and Elvis, and the sketchy but affecting subplots which encapsulate each of them.
The Disc
Vendetta's widescreen 1.78:1 presentation gives no cause for complaint image-wise but the fact that Thale is such an intriguing little film makes the absence of extras all the more baffling and infuriating. Accompanied solely by a trailer, this skeletal release is enough to make any film fan lose their Norwegian wood. English subtitles are made available, for the few uncultured nongs amongst you who haven't made the effort to learn at least conversational Norwegian, and the only audio option is Norwegian (which at least spares us the sort of brain-meltingly awful dub track which was on offer with Troll Hunter). Sound is Dolby Digital 5.1.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The term "modern fairytale" is over-employed these days, and is in danger of becoming a cliché, but it seems highly apt to describe this small but perfectly formed little beauty. Slight it may be, but it's invested with sufficient style and winsomeness to make it stand out in a genre scene awash with charmless wonders. Those in search of actual scares should, however, adjust their expectations accordingly.
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