It’s not hard to see why so many websites (IMDb and Hulu included) classify Thale as a horror movie. It involves strange creatures, and it opens up with a bloody, gory mess. But that opener aside, this is a movie that is not driven by fear and terror so much as curiosity and puzzlement. Released last year in Norway, this foreign-language film is available in both dubbed and subtitled versions (I watched the subtitled one), and director Aleksander Nordaas is reportedly working on an English-language sequel after the success of this film at festivals.
Made with a minimal budget, Thale operates with a small set, only a handful of characters, and sparing use of special effects. But this is used in such a way as to heighten the sense of mystery in this tale inspired by Norwegian folklore.
Erlend Nervold and Jon Sigve Skard play Elvis and Leo, a pair of cleaning technicians. They’re at work cleaning up a house in the woods where a man has been torn apart by wild animals. It’s never stated outright, but it’s implied they are crime scene cleaners — people whose specific job is to clean up crime scenes and similar messes after the evidence no longer needs protection. At least, Leo is. Elvis is much less stoic about the mess they’re cleaning up, and has difficulty keeping his lunch. As they clean the house, they discover a previously undiscovered alcove, locked away. They open it, and in there they find a young woman who does not speak.
Elvis starts playing tape recordings that have been left in the room, and they learn a few things. They learn the woman’s name is Thale, and that she has been there in isolation for a very long time. They learn that the person keeping her there claimed that she would be pursued by others if she were to leave. And they begin to get hints that Thale may not be exactly human… or at least, not the same kind of human they are.
Nervold and Skard work well together as Elvis and Leo. The roles call far a low-key state of befuddlement, and the two are convincing in that regard. Nervold shows more range, due to the specific role he has, needing to show a degree of fear, nervousness, and nausea at various stimuli. But he also has a clear sense of compassion. Skard’s Leo is an individual who seems innately self-assured, gradually calming things down during a violent outburst.
But the star here is Silje Reinåmo, who plays Thale. Despite never speaking a single word, she gives the most powerful performance. Thale’s furtive movements seem perfectly natural for Reinåmo, as do her emotions, which are on full display. The terror that Thale feels at having intruders in her sanctuary, and the bewilderment at the absence of her guardian, are easy to read.
It’s not a particularly long film, being only 75 minutes, but it doesn’t feel as though it’s short or thin on plot. While the story is ultimately simple, the emotions of the characters give it a richness that make it highly entertaining. The audience, like Leo and Elvis, is left wondering just what is going on — and, like Thale, with a sense of apprehension as to what will happen next.