DVD Review – Thale (2012)

Thale, 2012.

Directed by Aleksander Nordaas.
Starring Silje Reinåmo, Erlend Nervold, Jon Sigve Skard, Morten Andresen, Roland Astrand and Sunniva Lien.

SYNOPSIS:

When two crime scene cleaners are called out to a remote forest cabin they come across more than just the dead body of a man ripped in two. In the cellar of the cabin they discover the mythical creature Thale.

If Thale is, as the film’s marketing wants us to believe a horror film, then it conforms to at least one trait of the genre: the woman or females survival dependent on one of the male characters. Before Elvis (Erlend Nervold), one half of “No Shit Cleaning Company”, steps up to be Thale’s (Sunniva Lien) knight in shining armour, there is another male character important in her story: the dead man, ripped into pieces by the local wildlife. This mysterious figure is present through only the sound of his voice, heard on any number of the cassette tapes Elvis plays back, as he attempts to understand who or what Thale is, and why she was seemingly a prisoner. The tapes which are in part confession pose a contradictory explanation: Thale is both prisoner and guest, the dead man both friend and foe, Thale saved from perhaps a fate far worse than her current imprisonment. So is the mystery of our seventy-five minute stage.

Its association as a horror is more likely a result of the film’s marketing, the trailer selling Thale as a conventional horror monster amidst a more straight-laced horror narrative. Watching the film, the filmmaker’s intent and marketing are seemingly opposing forces, the eagerness of the latter to hang on to the coat tails of the recent Scandinavian hit horror Troll Hunter the most obvious reason. After all it has been called “Troll Hunter’s twisted cousin”, but this latest Scandinavian import occupies the fringes of the horror genre, instead a combination of three genres: fantasy, mystery and the thriller.

The film’s mystery elements are of course in keeping with the recent spate of Scandinavian thrillers to land on our shores, both on the small screen (The Killing, The Bridge) and the big screen (The Millenium Trilogy and Headhunters).

Whilst director-writer Aleksander Nordaas compels us to immerse ourselves in the drama and mystery, through the introduction of an intriguing promise to explore themes of fatherhood, and the nature of interjecting ourselves into the fate of others, it will undoubtedly appeal to audiences who appreciate slow-burn narratives. Unfortunately the film ends as more of a tease, a promise of a little Scandinavian gem and accomplished follow-up to Troll Hunter, until second act narrative difficulties arise.

Nordaas fails to develop these themes, and the mystery is explained away in an underwhelming sequence that could well have been lifted from another film.

The narrative difficulty Thale struggles to overcome is managing the dynamic between the human and mythical worlds, both of which are brought together in the narrative. The conclusion of the mystery treads ground walked by Spielberg in 1982, avoiding what would have been the fantastical re-imagining of John Carpenter’s claustrophobic tale Assault on Precinct 13. The latter may have been more effective, but as some writers will admit, drawers are filled with unfinished stories. It is not always the fault of the writer, but Thale struck me as a film that perhaps had it not been for the stubbornness of its writer-director, should have ended up in the drawer.

The first 45 minutes feature a pleasant humour, with a touch of the bleak, and an unfolding mystery, all of which despite its slow burn nature makes for an immersive drama. The use of the cassette recordings to chronicle Thale’s back-story creates a sense of fantasy, a narrator to describe events, interspersed with abstract flashbacks but otherwise we are left to imagine for ourselves, from which derives an impression of mythology and storytelling. The humour of the characters serves the story well, especially the comedy of reactions and glances, a silent comedy or in other moments a comedy of few words. Sadly, Thale’s role in shaping Elvis’ future relationship with his own daughter, through what is introduced a kind of father-daughter relationship, is never fully realised, and avoiding a heightened sentimentality early on, the film ends up offering empty sentimentality.

Thale is a film with a good idea, but suffers poor execution; either that or Nordaas struggles to resolve the narrative problems. As impressive as it is in its first 45 minutes, its potential is sadly left unrealised, but remains for all its flaws a film worth discovering.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★

Paul Risker is co-editor in chief of Wages of Film, freelance writer and contributor to Flickering Myth and Scream The Horror Magazine.