TIFF 2012: ‘Thale’ isn’t daring enough to shake off comparisons

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Directed by Aleksander Nordaas

Written by Aleksander Nordaas

Norway, 2012

Usually, a beautiful woman is reason enough to take a guy’s breath away – especially if she’s naked, and especially if she has you in a chokehold. While her vice grip tightens around your throat and you labour in your hopeless struggle to breathe, the fact that she used to have a tail somehow feels trivial; because, at that point, you’re attention may be preoccupied with something else.

Not exactly a daily problem for most, but this is exactly the situation that befalls a couple of Norwegian lads. Working with the appropriately named ‘No Shit Cleaning Service’, Elvis and Leo (Erlend Nervold and Jon Sigve Skard) are called upon to clean up a house nestled in the remote sylvan beauty of the country’s timberlands. Inside, however, the place is a right bloody mess.

Without the assistance of his usual partner, Leo asks his old friend Elvis to make up the numbers. Elvis doesn’t have the stomach for the job (there’s visual proof of this in the movie) and isn’t very good with instructions, but they soldier on nonetheless. Their work eventually leads them to a dark, dingy basement, and before he goes back outside to take a call on his mobile phone, Leo warns Elvis to not touch anything. Obviously, he does.

Through his misplaced curiosity, Elvis stumbles upon a strange discovery. In a tub full of a white, milky substance is a woman (Silje Reinåmo), a bit feral and with some kind of tube connected to her mouth. He also finds a cassette tape, filled with the recordings of a man’s regrets and pontifications. Together, Elvis and Leo try to find out what happened in this basement, and who, or what, this woman really is.

Like in a lot of Nordic movies, the pacing in Thale is gradual and methodical, with a strong emphasis on character development and their dynamics. The narrative is strongly focused on the detached and weakening friendship of Leo and Elvis (they both harbour secrets that they keep from each other), with the discovery of this mysterious ‘woman’ playing a strong ancillary role. The message of the movie is about how some people lose their humanity by trying to make things more ‘human’, and, in telling it, director Aleksander Nordaas does a reasonably good job.

However, the main drawback in Thale is that it isn’t daring enough to shake off comparisons. The movie bears a strong likeness to films like Splice, Frankenstein, and even Let the Right One In (in terms of story), but Thale is never bold and different enough to set it apart from the peloton of similar films.

Although based on the ‘huldra’ from Scandinavian lore, the creature design is rather generic and uninspired. The only thing different is her tail, and the CGI rendering, in other parts of the movie, is fairly lackluster. By the end of the film, which is only 80 minutes, the mythos doesn’t have enough substance to garner any traction, and the huldra could easily be substituted without mitigation.

As a result, Thale has more character focus than narrative. A film with obvious budget constraints, Mr. Nordaas uses his limited resources to craft a picture with a strong sense of solace and atmosphere, but without the means or the space to become something distinct. Mr. Nordaas has talent for direction, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if his future films were equal to his marketable vision. That is, of course, if he has the financial support to realize it. In Thale, it looks like he didn’t.

– Justin Li

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 6-16

For more information and tickets, please visit the official website

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