Norwegian Woods, by Aaron Pinkston
Fairy tales and horror have long been kissing cousins. From the Brothers Grimm to tales of man-eating mermaids, the stories we’ve created to tell our children often have a mean streak. Tweaking by just a few degrees and you have playful fantasies filled with creative worlds and cute critters. When the things we don’t quite understand turn out not to be friendly, it’s a pretty simple and direct recipe. Recently, there has been a trend in horror that is bringing back the feel of folklore — the first films that come to mind are anything “presented by” or “from the mind of” Guillermo del Toro. Thale, a new entry from Norway, gives American audience a view of the little-known Scandinavian myth of the huldra, the “lady of the forest.”
Narratively, Thale’s most direct film comparison is the recent film Mama. The film mainly involves a two-man clean up crew that comes across a strange woman hidden at their job site. Named Thale, she is beautiful and seductive, but quite mysterious. Her lack of speech and aversion to human contact show all the signs of her being cut off from civilization. Like in the Guillermo del Toro-produced Mama, the topic of humans (or humanoids) interacting in a world that they’ve never really experienced is full of wonderful possibilities. It also can lead to a challenging central performance, and luckily Silje Reinåmo is up to it. Her unique face is fully utilized in creating the character, turning from sweet-and-innocent to horrific in a second. She has a certain appeal that is absolutely necessary for the character to hit on its fairy tale elements.
Thale’s mystery is fun to think about — where did she come from? What are the explanations to the strange circumstances in which she has been found? Is she dangerous? Unfortunately, the film’s answers aren’t quite as interesting. Thale explores many of these questions through hazy flashbacks and incessant exposition. The two characters who should be our soundboard, the realization of our curiosity, are both pretty bland. By the end of the film, we learn nothing constructive about their lives, only their occupations and their lack of personalities. Thale obviously needs to be the most interesting character in the film (which she is by a mile), but that doesn’t mean she has to be the only interesting character. When the horror is cranked up, she is the only figure that we’ve attached ourselves to, and so the consequences of her actions don’t carry a lot of weight.
Even at 77 minutes, Thale doesn’t satisfy the runtime. Falling somewhere in the middle, it maybe should have been chopped off to a nice short film or expanded, adding time, but also plot, character development and some intrigue. Though I typically love when horror films challenge themselves by being pretty self-contained in a single space, this gives Thale a pretty light feel.