It is alarmingly rare for a horror film to surprise. In a market crammed full of remakes and franchises that exist solely for commercial reasons, and often lack quality, it is refreshing to discover something original. Thale from writer / director Aleksander Nordaas definitely falls into this category.
The film follows Leo (Erlend Nervold) and Elvis (Jon Sigve Skard) who run a cleaning business, but not one most of us would be familiar with. They clean up crime scenes following gruesome murders, horrific accidents and other generally unpleasant and bloody events. During their current assignment Leo receives a call about a new job at a cabin out in the woods where only half a body has been found. While exploring they discover a hidden door in one of the buildings and despite their better judgement decide to investigate further.
In a hidden and apparently abandoned series of cellar rooms they find what appears to be a laboratory full of tinned goods, medical charts and an old tape recorder. After Elvis’ curiosity gets the better of him he presses play and the recorded diaries of an unknown man are recited. The diaries tell the story of how this man came to find Thale in the woods as a child, of how he nurtured her and then hid away in this cabin to avoid discovery, and of how Thale is a Huldra, a creature from Norwegian folklore that inhabits remote woods. As they listen further, and meet the intoxicating Thale they realise that there is a great deal at stake, including their lives.
I have now watched Thale several times and I must confess that I think it is a wonderfully atmospheric film. Nordaas has created a story that draws the viewer into each character’s world and with delicately balanced direction ensures that each revelation is equally surprising and thought provoking. It is some time into the film when the truth begins to emerge and even then the viewer is left guessing as to how the story will develop. The lives of the three leads become unavoidably intertwined and connected in ways they could not possibly have imagined.
The performances are outstanding in their subtlety, creating the impression that they are hardly acting and it is impossible not to empathise with each one. Norvold is understated and knowing as the dry witted and internally troubled Leo, Skard is comically endearing as Elvis but Silje Reinamo is the star as the hauntingly beautiful and threateningly mysterious Thale. She delivers a performance that exudes a dark force hidden beneath a childlike vulnerability.
It would have been too easy for the film to drift into over indulgence and become reliant on genre staples to draw in the audience but as stated earlier Nordaas directs in such a subtle way that this never happens. His greatest achievement is in allowing the story to come through and for the characters to lead the narrative forward without the need to overcomplicate a simple tale. It would be hard to avoid the comparison with Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, which also blends the difficult ingredients of fantasy and horror together successfully.
I would recommend everyone to seek this film out. Thale is a beautiful, haunting supernatural film that will surprise and shock in equal measure.