Thale

Thale

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Leo and Elvis, working for the No Shit cleaning company, are used to disgusting jobs. Sometimes they're cleaning up blood and vomit, sometimes decomposed bodies. A call out to a remote forest cabin where an old man's body has already been pulled into pieces is just routine, but when they find a naked girl locked in the basement, everything changes.

Discoveries of this sort have played a key role in many horror films of recent years, from Deadgirl to A Lonely Place To Die and the more cynical the Woman. There are any number of exploitative ways the scenario could develop, yet Thale does something altogether different, delivering realism at the heart of what will develop into a fantasy horror scenario.

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The two cleaners are startled; Elvis is frightened by the girl's aggression but Leo quickly recognises that it stems from fear, and tries to calm her. They phone for help (there's no nonsense about lack of signal). They find her something to wear and something to eat. They just want to do the decent thing and make sure she's okay. Unfortunately, as subsequent discoveries reveal, there's much more to this girl's situation than a dead man's cruelty, and someone or something is trying to find her.

With a nod to the current fad for Scandinavian crime drama, there's a mystery to be unravelled here, with a bizarre assorment of clues. It's a messy mystery, full of loose ends; the fact our heroes only glimpse a small portion of what must have happened makes the film more realistic and also more compelling. Layered into this are references to Norwegian folklore that give it a very different character. There's a tension between the civilised and natural worlds reflected in the forest and the fjord, the plastic cleaning suits and what they must inevitably come into contact with.

The film makes use of othered perspectives that hark back to the original The Evil Dead, but it uses them well, giving us more of a sense of the animal than of the supernatural. It's a shame that the special effects, when we finally get to see something unusual up close, are not quite up to the job. Before that, though, the film makes effective use of glimpses, things running at a distance, reminding us how much we all miss all the time. There's none of the usual horror over-emphasis here - it's just observational, matter of fact, and thereby much creepier.

The characterisation is strong throughout. A nicely observed script has us rooting for Leo and Elvis when we barely know them, and Jon Sigve Skard impresses with particularly strong work in the penultimate scene. It's Silje Reinåmo, however, who is the standout, utterly convincing as the traumatised girl, eliciting much more than lust or pity. Strikingly unselfconscious, she moves like a wild animal. The girl's intelligence is clear but she's also dangerous, unpredictable, vulnerable - a sympathetic other. Though writer/director Aleksander Nordaas uses this to talk obliquely about perceptions of women more generally, and thereby about the way they are usd within the genre, Thale never ceases to be an individual with a mind of her own.

Despite its occasional technical problems, this is a smart and unusual take on a scenario too often rendered as cliché. Its simple storyline disguises complex themes and its strong characters balance a tendency to romanticism. Nordaas has captured that rare magic most directors only dream of.

Reviewed on: 16 Mar 2013
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Two cleaners discover a strange, wild young woman locked in a basement, but is she a prisoner or has she been hidden from something worse?
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Director: Aleksander Nordaas

Writer: Aleksander Nordaas

Starring: Silje Reinåmo, Erlend Nervold, Jon Sigve Skard, Morten Andresen

Year: 2012

Runtime: 76 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Norway

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