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Review: ‘Thale’ Is A Half-Finished Spooky Fairy Tale

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

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
), 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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