Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thale (2012) : The Real Reason To Avoid Scandinavia

Review by Marie Robinson

Of what little I have seen so far, I think I already love Norwegian horror. There is such a weirdness to it, a blunt tribute to the country’s folklore. The first Norwegian horror film that I can recall seeing is Trollhunter (2010), which is downright amazing and I have just viewed my second. It is entitled Thale (tall-eh) and it was released at the beginning of this year.

Directed by Aleksander Nordass, it stars brothers Elvis (Erlend Nervold) and Leo (John Sigve Skard). Before I continue let me just say that I watched a version that was very poorly translated into English, so I really only have the most basic understanding of this film and a lot of this is speculation. Okay—here we go.

Leo has that unfortunate job of being that guy who cleans up crime-scenes and has recently gotten his brother a job alongside him. They are at a house cleaning up the bloody remains of an elderly man (and Elvis’ resulting vomit) and it becomes instantly clear that there is some tension between these two. They have been out of touch for some years and are having trouble falling gracefully back into each others lives.

Elvis decides to do some poking around in the house and forces the door of a cellar, finding cans of food that have long-expired. Deeper within the basement he finds a strange room—you know, one of those with the newspaper clippings and drawings/photographs tacked all over the walls. There is a desk with a pile of cassette tapes and a tape player and a bathtub full of a milky substance.

Even though Leo instructs him over and over again not to touch anything, well… he’s just got to! Right?!
He starts playing one of the tapes and it seems to be some sort of audio journal, a recording of a man talking, and a woman screaming. This recording awakens something; the water stirs in the tub and a woman emerges from the water.

She looks seemingly normal, except there is a strange look in her big brown eyes, and she doesn’t speak a word. Leo, who seems to always keep his cool, insists that they wait for his boss (I’m assuming) to arrive before they decide what to do. While they wait, Elvis tries to get close to this woman—Thale—and maybe shed some light on her story. Although she cannot speak, Thale can project memories into Elvis’s mind through touch, and through this gift her past begins to unravel. But someone—or thing—is definitely watching, and there is a secret presence that lingers in the woods that surround the isolated house.

The questions that arise in Elvis’ (and our) mind(s) are: Was Thale kept here as a prisoner or for protection? What does everyone want with her? Is she of this world?

Even though I couldn’t have full comprehension of Thale because of the shitty subtitles I enjoyed this low-budget picture. The atmosphere is there—dark, dank; all of the mystery and the secretiveness are almost palpable. There is also a great sense of suspense—a real one, not that cheap, jump-scare shit.

These actors have done little else, and nothing mainstream, but I can honestly say everyone gave a good performance. The cinematography was good, the special effects… more like something you would see on a SyFy original flick, but I don’t think it took too much away from the film.

The real reason I was dying to see this film was because, of course, it was based on a folktale. And I don’t think I am giving anything away by giving you some background on the folktale—I have an obligation as resident expert.

The creature in question is called a Huldra, or Skogsrå (meaning Lady of the forest), and is a female forest creature. They exist in several different countries folklore, but we will focus on the Norwegian aspects of the Huldra since this is a Norwegian film! Hobbies include hunting and seducing men—sometimes killing or kidnapping them. They are often beautiful and naked and have a cow’s tail. The Huldra are usually feared by humans and are considered to be evil; many tales are told with a message to avoid them. There is also a creature almost identical to the Skogsrå in Swedish folklore called the Tallemaja, which means Pine Tree Mary. First of all, that’s just a fun name, but also the first bit, “Talle”, which means “pine” is pronounced exactly like Thale, so maybe this is where the filmmaker got his inspiration for the title character.

One more tidbit is that there are two places in Norway named after the Huldras. There is Hulderheim on the island of Karlsøya that means “Home of the Hulder” (a Hulder is a male Huldra) and there is Hulderhusan on the island Hinnøya, which means “Houses of the Hulders”.

This film is pretty hard to film at the moment, and seemingly impossible to find with a decent translation, but if you get a chance, I recommend that you watch it!

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