Sunday, 16 February 2014

Thale (2012)

Nordic noir is the new black in crime fiction and drama. Nordic supernatural horror has been less conspicuous, but the impressive Let the Right One In certainly put Sweden on the horror movie map; less well-known is Thale, a Norwegian tale of the supernatural that is arguably just as good.

Thale begins in territory familiar to fans of The Killing, The Bridge, Wallender etcetera - dead bodies. More specifically, bodies that have been dead so long that they are difficult to detach from the floor. Yes, it's gruesome. But it's also original in that its heroes - sort of - are two ordinary blokes who go around cleaning up human remains. Sometimes these are murder victims, sometimes they are suicide, and sometimes they are just people who died and nobody noticed.

The film begins with a sinister cassette recording, then cuts to Leo and his new colleague Elvis doing things with buckets. Leo is a decent, Stoical type, and has clearly given Elvis a job (replacing someone on sick leave) out of sympathy. Elvis, we discover, has not had much luck in life, but he does have a little daughter. Leo has something else entirely, as we discover later.

Anyway, the plot proper begins when our sort-of heroes are sent to another job by the police (who we never see). An old man has died in a remote cabin and animals have been at the remains. Find the missing bits - that's the task. In their quest the pair discover something the police missed. The old man had created an underground laboratory, of sorts. In it they discover some disturbing records, medical instruments, and a bath of some odd chemical from which emerges Thale.

Thale is, apparently, a young woman who can't speak. Assuming (rightly) that she's been held prisoner, Leo calls for help and offers her something to eat. After a bit of initial mistrust Thale settles down to eating buns, while Elvis starts to examine the old man's files. Then the pair discover something in a small fridge. It is a tail; it seems that this was cut off Thale in a very crude surgical procedure. It also emerges that Thale has some kind of paranormal power.

What is Thale? Who was the old man? And what is lurking in the woods? The film is arguably a little too predictable in some respects, but it has a nature-mysticism that recalls Blackwood's best stories. The message, if there is one, is that humans are the true monsters, which seems fair enough in the light of every day's news. But what lingers - along with the shocks - is the happy ending as Leo and Elvis both find that there lives have been transformed by contact with something they can't fully understand, but which has grasped essential truths about them.

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