It is all crime and creature features in Norway these days, from Jo Nesbø adaptations to the Troll Hunter. I’m not quite sure who or what injected industrial grade steroids into their film industry, but I am quite glad it is happening. Thale, which falls clearly into the latter category, introduces two wonderfully watchable characters, Leo and Elvis, a two man crime scene cleaning crew (“No Shit Cleaning Service.”) The classic odd couple, Elvis is fidgety and occasionally gets sick from the more gristly aspects of the profession, where Leo is perhaps the most deadpan-zen character in a film since Tony Shalhoub in Galaxy Quest. While on the job gathering body parts of a farmer torn apart by animals in the woods, they stumble across a very creepy bunker slash laboratory slash domicile full of survival equipment, expired canned goods and a bath-tub full of a white fluid. They call for their boss to figure out how to proceed and are told to sit tight, but Elvis cannot help but touch the various recording equipment and other scientific doo-dads. This allows for the strengths and the weakness of Thale to come into sharp focus.
The various visual reveals are handled with a grace that belies the films miniscule budget. This includes the well realized and creature, a Huldra – sort a Norwegian cross between a Siren and a Dryad – who rises out of a baptism of milky fluid, a much rawer image than the similar, glossier Charlize Theron emerging in Snow White and the Huntsman. In a word, it is magnificent, and so is the performance from Silje Reinåmo. Kudos to the writer/director, Aleksander Nordaas, for never once sexualizing the lead actress, Silje Reinåmo, despite the fact that she spends almost every moment of screen time in her birthday suit. But then the film decides it no longer needs to show-not-tell and goes for some the the clumsiest rendered exposition in the form of the aforementioned recording equipment and to add insult to injury, an completely unnecessary telepathy-flashback device.
At a scant 75 minutes, the film seems to be burdened with too much exposition, and events that just ‘happen’ without much of a sense of geography. When the film is concerned with the characters it sings (often literally) but when it is concerned with plotting and logistics, it falls flat. It is too bad that we are only teased with a few birch-bark and fresh-fallen snow exteriors before the film confines its leads to a single sickly-yellow location. By the second half of the film, much of the good will built up with Leo and Elvis has dissipated into a not-quite-congealed script. There is a lot in this movie to love, but not quite enough to recommend beyond a quick film-festival stopover. For a film about empathy, I wanted to like it a lot more than I did.