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Review: 'Thale' Is A Half-Finished Spooky Fairy Tale

by Gabe Toro
April 4, 2013 5:59 PM
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There’s usually a handshake agreement made by audiences with genre filmmakers eager to make an impression: If your first act is fantastical, intriguing and mysterious, then don’t botch it with an overly technical, low-imagination third act explanation. This sort of misstep has dogged big budget mishaps like “Prometheus” and even smaller, lovelier films like Neil Jordan’s almost-but-not-quite “Ondine,” and it manifests itself again in the meme-worthy Norwegian chiller “Thale.”

Right off the bat, we’re introduced to two work-a-day stooges, Elvis (Erlend Nervold) and Leo (Jon Sigve Skard), cleaning out an abandoned house as employees of what we learn is called No Shit Cleaning Services. Given we have absolutely zero context, we’re left to believe that either these are highly trained niche professionals, or they’re working on something a bit more unusual than what we’d expect from a “cleaning service” assigned to an abandoned house.

Deeper investigation reveals dilapidated conditions (Elvis vomits, suggesting there’s something irregular about the day’s task) leading to a basement stocked with canned goods more than two decades old. The walls are lined with book clippings hinting at elaborate surgical procedures, and a stereo radio plays an audio cassette of what sounds like a professor discussing his experiments, in between shaky apologies. Playing these tapes wakes the creature lying in the milk bath, a naked nymphet they soon learn is named Thale.

The mute girl seems unusually powerful, but acts timid and frightful of these two average joes. As they radio their bosses, with the promise of help to arrive, there’s a feeling-out period, while a terrified Elvis pokes around looking for some sort of sign as to why she’s in this basement (as something of a non sequitur, Leo is amusingly only half-interested). The fact that they wait a considerable amount of time before deciding to place clothes on the girl suggests that the filmmakers may have come up with the money-shot of Thale’s thin, prehensile tail emerging out of her backside, and decided to work backwards from that point.

Unfortunately, the suggestions that there’s a folklore element to the story are overshadowed by two missteps, one within the narrative and one embedded in the storytelling. The fantastical element is bogged down by a militaristic agenda that clashes with the outlandish setup of a woodland sprite with an extra appendage, building a mundane mythology in order to create the most “plausible” answer for the film’s mysteries. And so much of the first act dread is provided by those same cassette tapes explaining Thale’s origins, but oddly enough a stretch of minutes at the start of the third act allows for an entirely different voiceover to set the stage even further, suggesting this was better off as a short film, not a feature length endeavor.

The look of “Thale” is also something of a double-edged sword, impressively professional for what is likely a small-budgeted film, but at points maybe too professional, like the immaculate tableau of the worst of Platinum Dunes’ dim-witted horror remakes. The abandoned house looks less like an organic creation and more like an immaculately designed set, a haunted house instead of a real home left behind by another. Similarly, a flood of last reel special effects look professional enough to not be laughable, but not realistic enough to be plausible within the film’s universe, and not nearly as imaginative as a film about a naked forest woman creature with magical powers merits. Which also, come to think of it, pretty much summarizes the movie. [C-]

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