Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Thale


I Wanna Huldra Haaaaaaand

Thale
Norway 2012
Directed by Aleksander Nordaas
Metrodome DVD Region 2


Warning: Very slight spoiler you will see coming  a mile off anyway.

This one’s a quite charming film which, while billed as a horror film, is more of a darkly cute monster movie than anything else. The title character, Thale, is played by Norwegian beauty Silje Reinåmo and she’s definitely not a character you can lack any empathy with... but I’m getting ahead of myself.

After teasing the audience with a short pre-credits sequence where the camera is focused on one wheel of a tape recorder, as the sounds of a possible violent encounter with the characters on the recording happens... the film starts off with the two main human protagonists, Leo (played by Jon Sigve Skard) and Elvis (Erlend Nervold). Elvis is the sensitive one of the two while Leo is the pragmatic master of deadpan humour and he runs what I can only describe as a clean up crew for violent crime scenes. So if you want someone scraped off the floor, Leo’s firm is the one who will do this for you. Elvis, who is just filling in for an absent member of the team, kinda stands by the side and throws up a lot.

And then, after their characters have been established, they are asked to find the other half of a body which is probably in a cabin, deep in a Norwegian wood. It’s while they are clearing this cabin that they find a secret entrance to what is an underground bunker (all shot in the director’s parent’s basement, by all accounts) with the remnants of what look like a mad scientists experiments on genetic transformation... along with the tape recorder we heard in the pre-credits sequence.

And then, up from a milky bath pops the title character, wearing only a a gas mask, both vulnerable and formidable as she is shown to be in the next five minutes. So the film is about the three characters interacting while Elvis and Leo try to feed the young 'lady' and discover what was her tail, kept in some kind of safe, so the smell won’t draw her fellow Huldra to reclaim her. A Huldra, by the way, is a Norwegian kind of wood nymph who, in its more more beautiful female form, inspires empathy with any humans it gets near as a defence mechanism. That defence mechanism certainly reaches out from the screen to lure in the audience too, as far as I’m concerned.

And then the three try to lock themselves in the bunker as a malevolent presence invades this world... but I don’t want to say more about that because, well, because it’s not what you are expecting from the way the film is set up... which is certainly a refreshing element to the movie. A movie which sets up a lot of tension and surprise while, sadly, occasionally telegraphing certain moments of the narrative.

For instance, I’d defy anyone to be actually surprised by the ‘reveal’ of the tail as... well... what did you expect? Similarly, a flashback which shows Thale as a child and bringing a dead flower back to life is going to absolutely give away the end punchline scene of the film much later to anyone who has been paying attention to Leo’s personal problem (which I won’t reveal here but you’ll see the formulaic way that one plays out, for sure).

However, I can forgive it the occasional obviousness in the way the story is written because the way the film is performed and also shot, in a fusion of bright and colourful (if sometimes bleached out) frames while simultaneously being almost completely done hand-held, is absolutely brilliant. He does things like a point of view ‘Huldra vision’ where the colours get bleached out slightly towards the focus of a frame and also, have little forward motion blurs on a lot of the picture to give those specific sequences a kind of ‘tunnel vision’ to the creatures.

Other things I caught the director doing are sometimes deep focusing on certain areas of a shot while everything else is a blur (not just in the Huldra sequences) and also a tendency to shoot his characters sometimes from a distance, looking into a room or corridor from outside another one... a bit like Roger Corman always leaving the doors open to make the locations in his films feel bigger but, here, it gives the bunker a more kind of claustrophobic feel.

The musical score is good too... with some traditional sounding stuff that more often than not transforms into the ‘atonal sound design meets dissonance’ which a lot of modern horror scores seem to use. Alas, the score itself is only available on download and not on a proper CD, so it looks like I won’t be getting to hear it away from the movie. Rather no score album at all than a watered down, compressed, electronic facsimile, I reckon.

But, yeah, the film is entertaining and certainly follows a traditional path in terms of the central creature of the narrative structure. This is why I say it’s not a horror movie but, rather a monster movie, because the film evokes the same kind of acceptance of the monster as movies such as King Kong (reviewed here) or Creature From The Black Lagoon (reviewed here). Similarly, the real villains of the piece are pulled from the human element in the film... but I’ll not say much more than that, at this point. I suspect you’ll probably figure all that stuff out before it’s revealed in the narrative anyway, to be honest.

So that’s me done on Thale. An impressive little horror movie which has some surprisingly good CGI effects, some great humourous, deadpan acting and a central female character who will undoubtedly win your heart. If you’re a fan of fantasy cinema then you’d probably do well to check this one out. Isn’t it good? Norwegian Wood.

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