Home Video Hovel: Thale, by David Wester
The protagonists of the Norwegian horror film Thale are old friends who are employed cleaning up crime scenes. As the film opens, they are scrubbing away the blood and brains of some poor dead soul after, one presumes, the cops have done all the investigatin’ they needed to do. One of duo is new to this line of work—he’s apparently filling in for someone more accustomed to such grisly employment—and, understandably, he keeps throwing up. This seems indicative of the rest of the film, which has flashes of interesting and novel ideas, but undercuts them at every opportunity. In this case, it defies logic that the throwing up fellow would be so employed, and while I applaud the main cleanup guy for throwing his friend a bit of work, I could not stop wondering why he didn’t hire someone who could do the job without making it worse by spraying his lunch everywhere.
No matter. It’s at the second crime scene that things pick up—the two discover a (living) naked woman hiding out in a bunker belonging to a recently deceased old man. She’s mute, violent, and there’s something strange and otherworldly about her. In addition to the woman, they find some bizarre documents and a taped record of some kind of experiments (or maybe torture) involving the woman. And, so, they call the appropriate authorities and wait for them to arrive, all the while keeping an eye on this exotic specimen.
She is, we come to know, not human. She’s some Norwegian exotic fantasy species called a “hulder,” which is like a mean elf or a wood nymph or something. The dead old man had freed her from some army experimentation in which he was also complicit, and, now that her captor has passed on, a group of her own kind is seeking to take her back into their fold. Before long, the army also comes sniffing around, determined to take her back into captivity. This puts our heroes in the middle of a potentially interesting, but ultimately unremarkable interspecies conflict.
It’s not exactly the most rousing set-up in the world, anyway, but it certainly has the potential for some good, juicy stuff as the two different factions converge on the bunker and, thereby, our out-of-their-element heroes. Alas, the only pleasures to be found in Thale are that of some unique world-building and the cheap-but-endearing creature FX of the other hulders. Otherwise, this is a movie that squanders an intriguing open and a unique character occupation. It’s a painfully slow watch where nothing of consequence occurs for huge stretches of time. It often feels like the beginning act of a much better film.
The world-building is pretty much the whole point of Thale. Once she’s revealed, the film becomes, essentially, a slow unraveling of the mystery woman-thing’s past. Her story is told through both flashback and inference. She was, we learn, taken and studied by the army. She once had a tail, but they cut it off. This sort-of thing. Eventually, her capacity for violence is discovered when some military folk try to subdue her, and she kicks their asses. But just unfurling a conspiracy revolving around one human-thing is not enough to sustain a feature film. I guess the script does try to use her presence as a device to expose the fractures in the friendship between the two main fellows, but the attempts at exposing their struggle to carry a friendship on into adulthood seem cursory and tossed off. Neither of the men seems to need the other all that much, nor do they seem to care terribly about maintaining their friendship.
The script is really the problem here. The incidents in the movie, editing notwithstanding, are doled out so slowly and so arbitrarily that whole stretches of the movie seem to go on for days. I struggled to maintain any interest at all as the film seemed determined to let nothing happen for a solid 30 minutes. Worse are the kinds of leaps in character motivation one finds in sloppy scripts like this one. For instance, the sensitive guy (the one who throws up) is viciously attacked by the woman early on, but is more or less content to be the one to watch her all by himself in a scary bunker after she stops attacking him. These sorts of things happen continuously throughout the film, starting with the aforementioned, boneheaded move of “hiring the guy who throws up to help clean up crime scenes.”
It’s a letdown because the opening of the film, prior to the mystery woman’s revelation, is adequately spooky and weird. But I was most disappointed in Thale, because I love the notion of protagonists who have to come in and clean up the aftermath of the kinds of stories we’re used to seeing in movies. This aspect of their lives is criminally unexamined. What must it be like for people who habitually have to come in after an intensely dramatic story has reached its conclusion to find themselves in the midst of their own intense, hard-to-fathom drama? To be confronted with the unexplained, the fantastic? The makers of Thale never even thought to ask these or any questions related to the lives of its main characters and, instead, focused on some soap-opera pap of terminal diseases and illegitimate children.
Thale is 76 minutes long. The DVD transfer is an accurate representation of the DSLR look of the cinematography. The only special feature on the disc is a trailer.