Monday, May 30, 2016

Thale (2012)

This is a seriously underrated little film. 

I don't know how many people even came across it--it mostly played festivals, with a few (really) limited general releases thrown in. But it's more than worth the price-of-rental and 76 minutes it takes to watch it. And true to form, I'm gonna spoil all its secrets if you keep reading. I'm just saying, that's how I roll.

So the thing was shot in Norway, by a guy named Aleksander Nordaas, for a total cost of $10,000. (Cheap!) Not that you would know that as you watched it. I've seen (so) many five or ten million dollar films that came off so much worse than this one. 

Wait. I'm making it sound like the film is just okay but there are worse ones out there, which is not what I mean at all. What I mean is this is a good film, and there are a lot of people out there who've spent a hundred times more money making really bad films.

Of course, Nordaas directed, wrote, produced, edited, worked the camera, built the sets and acted as cinematographer, so that saved a lot of money right there. Plus, he shot most of it in his dad’s basement. But the point I'm belaboring making is you'd never guess all that if you hadn't looked it up before or after the fact.

So. On to the movie itself.

Right off the bat we meet Elvis (Erlend Nervold) and Leo (Jon Sigve Skard). Leo apparently runs a crime scene cleanup business and Elvis, his buddy, is tagging along to make a little extra cash (I'm guessing). We know this is not Elvis' usual line of work because he spends this entire first-scene-interspersed-with-opening-credits vomiting. A lot. In detail. So if onscreen vomiting really gets to you, it'd be a good scene to avert your eyes in. Not that anyone finds onscreen vomiting particularly enjoyable, but if you're especially bothered by it, eye averting is good here.

Elvis the Vomiter (L) and Leo the Crime Scene Cleaner (R)

Anyway, it's worth noting these guys are way out in the middle of nowhere, cleaning up this little mountain cabin where someone has apparently been murdered. No idea how crime scene stuff works in Norway, but they're zipping a guy up into a body bag and cleaning up all this blood and gore. Have cops even been there? Wouldn't a coroner have taken the body away before these guys ever showed up? No idea. But anyway that's what they're doing.

We get a POV flashback scene (lots of those in this movie) where someone we can't see but who we'll call Talking Man is walking through a snow covered forest and talking to someone else we can't see about how he wishes things had turned out differently, and what happens now depends on "them," and so forth. We pass by a cave entrance and Talking Man says something about "that's where I found you, nine years ago. I wish I'd left you there." And we get this quick flashback-within-a-flashback shot of a creepy-not-quite-human-baby, laying there all shrouded in cave darkness. Eek.

In case we had come upon this movie unaware it was a horror film, now we know.

Then we're back to present day and mostly no longer vomiting Elvis. And Leo, too. (I mean Leo is also there. He was never vomiting.) So everything's pretty much cleaned up by now, and Elvis (even though Leo says don't go messing around touching things) starts messing around and touching things. He finds a hidden basement entrance outside, around back of the cabin, and (even though Leo says don't go in there and start touching things) goes in there and starts touching things.

It's a creepy place, with big jars full of formaldehyde-y body parts and stuff, and they (Leo keeps saying stay out but he's as curious as the next guy) find a room with a big tub full of viscous white fluid and a workbench. On the workbench is an old style cassette tape recorder and a bunch of tapes. Elvis can't help but put one in and give it a listen.

I'm not touching, I'm listening....

So the tapes are all of Talking Man (who we never meet and whose body I assume was being zipped up in that bag we saw earlier) telling his story. Elvis is listening away while Leo pokes around in some other room, when all of a sudden a naked woman (who we'll find out later is Thale (Silje Reinamo), the movie's titular character) comes busting out of that fluid-filled bathtub, scaring poor Elvis half to death.


She's as freaked out as Elvis is and grabs him in a choke hold that he's not gonna live through if she keeps at it, but Leo rushes in and talks her down. She seems to understand Norwegian but apparently doesn't speak, herself. Well, Leo's all like "what are we gonna do now, this is an active crime scene, I gotta go call my boss" and Elvis is like "hey, grab those rolls outta the car while you're at it, this girl looks hungry." So Leo hikes down to the car and that's where we see our first monster, lurkishly skittering (or skitterishly lurking, definitely both happening) across the road as Leo's getting the bad news that his boss is gonna be hours and hours before getting there.


Great. Stuck up in the mountains with monsters that you don't even know are there. This is bad. So. Back at the cabin, Thale (pronounced like you're Canadian and someone says "wow that guy is at least seven foot six" and you reply "tall, eh"?) is pounding down this bag of rolls Leo brought back from the car and the guys are realizing she's been here on her own for awhile, living off a bunch of canned food and bottled water that's pretty much gone at this point. So it's a good thing they came along when they did, right?

Well, we've gotten a little vague backstory on Thale from these tapes Elvis is listening to, but we still don't really know who or what she is and why she's hiding out in this cabin. At one point, Talking Man mentions on one of his tapes that he's surprised at how human-esque Thale is, and it must be her species' ability to adapt to their surroundings at work. Hmm. Anyway, it sounds like she and Talking Man were on the run, hiding from somebody, but we're not sure who. Is Talking Man a kidnapping bad guy? Is he a rescuing good guy? We don't know and Thale's definitely not saying.

After awhile Elvis stops listening to tapes long enough to notice Thale's no longer in the room, and does a bit more exploring to find her in (yet another) hidden room. This one's all done up like a little girl's bedroom, and Thale's hiding under a bed in there, looking all scared and confused. Elvis, being a kind soul, lays down on the floor next to her and tries to soothe her. When she reaches out and touches his face, he has this weird little seizure-y thing, and he's suddenly seeing flashbacks from different times in her life. And thus we learn that while she doesn't talk, she doesn't need to because she can communicate telepathically.

Elvis gets a little more information than he asked for.

In the flashback we see a younger Thale with Talking Man, finding and setting up shop in the cabin, then we see an older Thale wandering out of the cabin one night and getting a glimpse one of those creature-y things we saw on the road earlier, before Talking Man grabs her and takes her back inside. He performs some kind of unanesthetized surgery on her, telling her he knows they call to her but if she goes with them, "the others" will find her and that will not be good. He says some kind of energy or waves are emanating from her and hopes removing whatever he's removing will keep that from happening so neither group finds her again.

Okay, we all know it's a tail he's cutting off, right? It's right there on that movie poster up top. Apparently Thale is one of these forest things we've been catching glimpses of, but she looks more human due to being raised by humans. (Really, she looks more human 'cause $10,000 is not nearly enough money to let you do a movie's main character in CGI.) So sure enough, a minute or two later we see Elvis and Leo opening up a freezer and there's a tail in there.


Now both guys are a little freaked out by this point, but it only gets worse: all of a sudden there are sneaky rustlings outside. Somethings definitely out there. Apparently Thale knows what it is. She jumps up, locks the basement door, and hides in the corner. Elvis and Leo are still trying to figure out what's going on when they realize some kind of gas is being pumped in through the door's keyhole. Just as Elvis is passing out, he reaches out and touches Thale's foot, which gives him (and us) another flashback to fill in the last of her story. Basically, we just see her meet one of her own kind and then realize how different she is from caregiver Talking Man.

Flashback-Thale finally meets up with her own kind...
...and notices the biggest difference between her and that human anatomy book she's reading.

Oh. And I should mention that right before the gas started flowing, Leo was in-process of telling Elvis that he's been diagnosed with cancer and only has a few months to live, as Thale looks on. It's kind of a weird scene that has a tacked on feeling and I'm not sure the movie really needs it, but there it is.

So Leo and Elvis are in a bad way.

Turns out it was a bunch of black ops types feeding that gas through the keyhole, and now both guys are outside, tied to chairs and blindfolded. Leo is still unconscious, and Elvis is being interrogated by The Bad Guy as his minions search the cabin for Thale. Bad Guy fills in what Talking Man hasn't already given us, that Thale was found as an infant and taken by this black ops government group for nefarious study purposes. At some point Talking Man, one of the group himself, grew a conscience and ran off with her to try and give her a better life. They've been villainously looking for her ever since.

I'm not sure I caught (or that he actually said), during his Bad Guy Monologue, how Talking Man died. If these guys had done it, they'd already have searched the cabin for Thale, right? Maybe those forest critters we've been getting all the glimpses of broke in and got him. I don't know.

MinionsThe Bad Guy

So back in the cabin (which is really pretty small), no one can seem to find Thale. Until she rears up out of that fluid-filled tub and kills them all, that is. Turns out she's really fast, really strong, and really determined not to go with them. The minions don't stand a chance.

No pun intended with that "rears up out of" stuff. But it worked out great anyway, didn't it?
Necks are fragile.
Do. Not. MESS. With her.
Yes, she really did just shove a rifle through that guy's chest.

So we get a few minutes of awesome Killer-Thale-Action inside, interspersed with less awesome but still interesting Bad-Guy-Exposition outside, until Thale finishes off the minions by poking a hole in their gas tank and running like mad. Explosions ensue.

"Oh sh-" KABOOOOOOM!"That can't be good," thinks Bad Guy.

So Bad Guy figures it's time to cut his losses and get the hell out of here. He whips out a big gun and points it at Elvis, just in time to realize he's not going to make it home for dinner. Or ever. Seems a few of Thale's sisters were lurking about in the trees nearby, and have decided to show him what they think of people who steal defenseless babies from caves. Which is not only satisfying to watch, but gives us some of the best monster shots of the film, so here are a few screenshots for your viewing pleasure. Okay, the monster shots came off better in-motion, but you get the idea.

Going from Large and In Charge... I May Not Have Thought This Through as Well as I Should Have.
Ask rifle-through-the-chest-man how helpful that pistol will be.
Forest Critters prepare to make a Bad Guy sandwich.
Elvis is really appreciating his blindfold about now.
Our work is done, here, sisters. Away!

Well, bad guys are dead and monsters are gone, but what ever happened to Thale? She's around, we find out, as she steals over to just waking Leo and touches his chest before melting into the forest for good. All that's left now is for the guys to be rescued (off-screen) and explain all those bodies to their boss, as he types up the report.

Ah, so that's what she was....

Probably Norwegian audiences already knew this, but I didn't. Hulder is "a seductive forest creature found in Scandinavian folklore." From what little information I found online, female huldrefolk are "seductively beautiful," so I'm not sure what this movie's whole furry forest demon thing was about. One site mentioned something about shape-shifting, so maybe some of that's what was going on here, with Thale shape-shifting from animal to human.

Anyway, last couple scenes are an epilogue, with Leo discovering that Thale's last touch before she ran off cured his cancer, and then Thale waking up in a forest and following a bunch of other huldrefolk off into the trees. With her kind at last for a happy ending and all that. My question is will she continue to look human or revert to her natural state? And will she ever grow that tail back? Enquiring minds want to know.

Maybe the sequel will tell us.

And now for a little secret: My knee-jerk right after I watched it was to give this movie three brains. I thought "That was fun. I probably won't watch it again, though." And while that's still more or less true, learning what I did about it's cost and going back through looking for screenshots, I realized even if I don't seek it out for repeat viewing the way I do some films, I'd definitely re-watch if it ever showed up on TV or if I and a friend who hadn't seen it were looking for a good fantasy thriller to pass the time with. Heck, I might watch it all on my own again, as well.

Anyway. Point being, I decided to up the film's brain count from its initial three to what I think is a well deserved count of FOUR SCANDINAVIAN FOREST CREATURE BRAINS. So there.


Todd Mosi said...

I honestly did not even read this review. It was too much.

Unreadable? No.

You provided enough intrigue that I want to see it. I'm assuming it's on Netflix. If not, let me know where I can find it.

I'll come back and write a proper comment once I revel in the gloriousness of THALE.

Those Nords are great in film...


Dan said...

Yeah, I tend to favor the longer posts. Once in awhile a shorter one pops out naturally, but when I try to force them I don't get very far.

The movie is currently on Netflix. Don't know for how long, though.

And I learned all about Scandinavia versus Norway while researching hulder itself. The creature belongs to the overarching Scandinavian folklore, with Norway, Denmark and others all having their own local flavors of the myth.

So it's a Nordic film about a Scandinavian creature. :-)