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DVD Review: ‘Thale’

★★★☆☆

An opening shot of a cassette-recorder playing and the screams of a woman give an instant suggestion that Aleksander Nordaas’ sophomore feature, Thale (2012), will be venturing into the territory of torture porn. Much like fellow Norwegian creature-feature Trollhunter (Trolljegeren, 2010), however, it subverts its immediate genre trappings to give audiences something a little more unique. With a pair of kind-hearted characters and a lack of explicit horror, the film has a good-natured centre and is concerned with the oppression of secrets – both intimate and more expansive – more than tension or gore.

Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) works for a cleaning service that specialises in the removal of human remains and, short-staffed, he has recruited his pal Elvis (Erlend Nervold) to help out. On a job out in the woods collecting the scattered body of an old man, however, the two friends happen upon something down in the basement which will change their lives forever. Whilst ferreting in a locked and hidden subterranean shelter, Elvis is startled by a woman, Thale (Silje Reinåmo), emerging from beneath the still water of a bath. As the two men wait for help to arrive, they try to uncover more about who, and what, Thale is and unearth secrets that will risk their very lives.

Thale does a good job of stitching together its diverse genre elements giving the background of an abduction horror and fantasy elements of the incorporated local folklore. The film’s runtime is devoted much more to the hapless Leo and Elvis who find themselves besieged in the cabin with their newfound companion. The situation seems to lead them to divulge secrets they had otherwise kept buried and had seemingly gnawed both at them and their friendship. The actors (who both appeared in Nordaas’ first film) manage this relationship well and their final scene together is surprisingly touching.

A threatening presence looms outside, CGI is sparsely-used but effective, and the eponymous Thale is ferocious beneath her meek and traumatised exterior. All this creates enough atmosphere to warrant its genre categorisation and mystery to keep audiences guessing until its final moments. Ultimately, Nordaas’ Thale is attempting more than that, though; it’s making a statement about the dangers of concealment both through its treatment in Norwegian folklore and the personal issues of the likeable protagonists.

Ben Nicholson