Two male cleaners discovers a mythical-type woman from Norwegian folklore in the basement of a recently deceased man.
With its opening scenes dripping in viscera and vomit, one can only assume Aleksander Nordaas’ Thale will head down the blood ’n’ guts monster movie path. But what emerges in the Norwegian indie is a far more thoughtful (though no less scary) woodlands creature feature.
There is a great deal of humour in the story
The film’s heroes are Leo (Jon Sigve Skard), an unruffable veteran of grisly murder sites as the principal of the No Shit Cleaning Company, and his ring-in, weak-stomached offsider Elvis (Erlend Nervold). Called to a cabin in the woods to find what’s left of an old man thought torn apart by wildlife, Leo and Elvis instead stumble upon 'Thale' (Silje Reinamo), a young feral woman hidden away in a grim, Saw-like cellar by the now dead man.
Proving the perfect gentlemen, Leo and Elvis comfort and clothe the naked woman as they wait for authorities to arrive. But Thale is soon revealed to be more than just a madman’s imprisoned victim: her heritage may extend into the ethereal netherworld of Norwegian forest folklore. Having been taken from their clan as a child, Thale’s cave-dwelling 'relatives’ are now sensing she may be returned to their fold and set about freeing her from the care of Leo and Elvis.
For much of Nordaas’ compelling horror-fantasy, the mostly-naked and wonderfully crafted physicality of Reinamo taunts the audience, who may expect the not-quite-human being to eventually unleash her animal instincts. But rather, she develops a wary trust with the lads, ultimately siding with them as the spindly-legged, fleet-of-foot beasts and the untrustworthy authorities encircle them.
There is a great deal of humour in the story; the message that 'man is the real savage’ is not fresh but it’s well played by the director and his leading men (working together for the third time, after Sirkel and Takk skal du ha). Thematically, there is a maternal streak that underlines the film’s few pensive moments; Elvis’ heretofore unheard of daughter and Thale’s ties to her past serve to bridge their characters, but Nordaas doesn’t overplay the bond.
The basis of the narrative’s central mythology is the legend of the 'huldra’, a race of forest-dwelling bipeds who, much like the mermaids of the briny deep, lure unwary travellers with their glorious voices before slaying them. (Thale does such a thing at a pivotal moment.) One is reminded of the film’s low-budget when the creatures are revealed in full view; like most movie monsters, they are far more terrifying when hinted at or glimpsed. (The creature’s roadside reveal behind an unaware Leo is a bone-chiller, reminiscent of that moment in M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs.)
All other tech aspects, however, are top tier. Essentially a three-hander/single-setting drama, the punchy editing by Nordaas and the nightmarish set design by Alen Grujic maximise the fear inherent to the claustrophobic setting.