Norwegian folklore comes to life in this 2012 festival circuit darling from Europe. Two ordinary crime-scene cleaners discover in a locked cellar what appears to be a feral woman. Have they stumbled upon a terrible crime? We soon learn the woman is no mere human and named Thale (Silje Reinåmo). While Thale on its surface is a horror movie, its heart is a tender fairytale about a misunderstood creature yearning to be with others like herself.
Leo and Elvis are the two cleaners that first happen to come across Thale, locked away in a small room inside a filthy basement. The movie is as much about Leo and Elvis as it about mythical forest creatures. Leo has a cool, detached demeanor which never gives the slightest indicator he is fazed by the fantastical events confronting him. Elvis is almost Leo’s polar opposite, an extremely sensitive man that can’t stomach the sight of dead bodies and shows strong curiosity in the mystery of Thale. Both are fully realized characters that go on a satisfying emotional journey.
The central character is the mysterious Thale. Discovered in a state of complete nudity and unable to communicate, it first appears that the dead man had been keeping her locked away for years in his basement. It does not take the narrative very long to convince us that while Thale looks human, she has abilities and powers far beyond any human. Most interesting is the evolving paternalistic relationship which Elvis develops with Thale, a substitute for the failing relationship with his own five-year-old daughter.
Where the mystery and fairytale begins to take a horrific turn is when Thale’s original abductors, a group of sinister men, come looking to hunt her down. In proper horror terms the real monsters end up not being the strange creatures, but man himself. It is not a totally unexpected turn of events, but the movie sells the theme quite well.
One can see why Thale was a hit on the festival circuit. The indie horror film from European director Aleksander Nordaas is a smart rumination on the intersection of fantasy creatures and human failings. The script is a cut above the type of junk that makes the grade in independent film, though the low-budget ethos that pervades the film does hinder it at times. This is rarely a problem for most movies, but Thale might have been better served by expanding its length another twenty minutes. A little more background and explanation might have ruined some of the mystique and mystery of the creatures, but the plot largely glosses over full explanations for a number of things.
The main feature runs a few seconds shy of 78 minutes on a BD-25. Encoded in AVC at an average video bitrate of 28.76 Mbps, the low-budget digital production has an adequate presentation. It certainly was not shot on the latest high-end digital cameras, instead exhibiting several characteristics of much older and cheaper digital productions. The main feature is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, at a resolution of 1080P. There is some banding and slight posterization evident in the image which looks endemic to the digital source.
While Thale is not in the found-footage genre of new wave horror, its cinematography resembles many of that genre’s camera techniques. Thale’s “home” in the basement is filmed in that manner, with extreme close-ups and the occasional lapse in focus or steadiness. It helps add a degree of claustrophobia to the mood, touching on what it must have been like to grow up as Thale did in a veritable dungeon basement, with little available outside light. It does not produce stunning picture quality aside from a handful of very sharp close-ups. Facial detail is erratic from shot to shot, varying from a soft blur to excellent.
Exterior scenes have much higher levels of clarity, mostly set in the forest surrounding the dead man’s cabin. Solid detail levels are backed by a pleasing contrast and moderate sharpness. The digital video is never on par with a movie from Hollywood, but competes for the most part with other indie horror films of recent vintage. The color palette is refreshingly vivid with strong primary colors, a rarity for the genre. Flesh-tones are on the paler side of neutral, slightly washing out in brighter lighting. Black levels are decent, though shadow detail is a little sketchy in the darkest scenes inside Thale’s hiding spot.
XLrator Media has provided two audio options for Thale. The intended primary option even English speakers should listen to is a 5.1 Norwegian DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. For a low-budget affair, the lossless native surround track punches above its weight class. The quiet moments of drama are punctuated quite nicely by an engaging cacophony of sound in certain intense scenes, most notably as the story flashbacks to Thale’s younger days. If any genre needs an effective soundtrack to heighten the emotional intensity of a scene, it is horror with the sudden noises and subtle placement in the soundfield. Thale succeeds in that measure with clever sound editing and strong Foley work.
An English dub is included in 2.0 Dolby Digital at 192 kbps. It is a bad stereo mix with poor balance, as the dialogue overpowers the score and sound effects. The drop in fidelity from the main lossless soundtrack is immediate and apparent. Where it really goes wrong are the laughably bad voice actors used for Elvis and Leo. The dub does make small changes to the language found in the English subtitles.
Subtitles for both English and English SDH are included, presented in a white font.
Thale lacks the significant bonus features of some other independent horror films. Some context for the Norwegian folklore and history in the film might have been helpful to viewers not familiar with Norwegian culture. The disc opens with three trailers for other films released by XLrator Media, all in 1080P: The Thompsons, Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes, and Outpost: Black Sun. This combo pack does include a DVD.
Thale’s Theatrical Trailer (02:00 in 1080P) – The trailer is in proper HD, but do not watch it before the film itself. It is a trailer that gives away too much of Thale’s mystery and will partially ruin the suspense.
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