My three favorite horror films made in the last five years had at least two things in common. Each was made on a shoestring budget and all three presented contemporary versions of stories that were once told to scare children. Troll Hunter (2010) and Absentia (2011) gave us two distinct versions of the troll: the large lumbering creature in the forest (more or less a Norwegian counterpart to the Japanese kaiju) and the creepy, crawly, thing under the bridge that will drag you back into its lair.
Thale (2012) makes a very fine third entry. Here the mysterious creature is not a troll but one of the many imaginary hominids who populate the wooded and cragged regions of our dreamlands. They are shy and so at home where there is a lot to hide behind and where it can be perilously difficult to distinguish a crooked branch from a furry femur. The forest folk may or may not be malevolent but they are usually as suspicious of us as we are of them. An encounter with them may occasionally promise some prize. It always involves a peril.
Thale (pronounced tall-eh, as best I could hear it), like Troll Hunter, is a Norwegian film. It was written and directed by Aleksander Nordaas, apparently on a budget of $10,000.
The action opens with a couple of fellows cleaning up soupy viscera off of someone’s floor. Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) is the crime scene cleanup veteran. He works stoically and patiently while his partner Elvis (Erlend Nervold) pukes into a bucket. Elvis is not a man who had other options. They are called to another location where some poor fellow has excreted his entire remains down an outhouse hole.
They are compelled to enter the house and at that point the two characters switch roles. Leo is cautious and keeps telling his partner not to touch anything. Elvis succumbs to the lure of mystery and cannot resist exploring. Eventually they discover a woman hiding in one of a series of dirty rooms. Thale (Silje Reinåmo ) is beautiful, naked and mute. In short order they will discover that she is no ordinary girl and that she is being hunted by two sets of characters with very different powers and motives.
The film builds steadily from its quiet but dismal opening toward a climax of violence and horror, all the while following a delicious mystery. It treats us to a terrible retribution leavened with magical grace. Nordaas is an alchemist, turning blood, viscera, and abuse into something exquisitely beautiful.
I will add here two features of the plotting that are very well done. Elvis is immediately taken with Thale and at first it seems as if this is out of a sexual attraction. No one could blame him. In fact, she reminds him of his daughter. Apparently he is estranged from the mother and child, which goes to explain why he took this awful job. His instinct is fatherly. He wants to protect Thale. That will have important consequences.
Second, we get some quazi-scientific commentary from cassette tapes recorded by Thale’s deceased benefactor (the guy in the outhouse). This is done not to make the myth seem more plausible (it wouldn’t serve that purpose) but to weave the mythic aspects of the story together with the stories that modern natural history offers up. That is exactly how this sort of thing ought to be handled in horror fiction.
Thale is a first rate piece of work. It appears that a sequel is in the works, no doubt with a considerably bigger budget. It will be a miracle if that doesn’t ruin it. Don’t miss this one.