SXSW Movie Review: THALE

April watches Norwegian folklore come to life in this movie about a mysterious girl with a tail.

“In a cellar, dark and deep, I lay my dearest down to sleep; A secret they would like to keep.”

There’s far more to Thale than even the rich slices of Scandinavian folklore can provide. Our title character is a “huldra” or alluring forest nymph appearing human in body and mind only as she deems fit -- her most distinct feature being an earth-sweeping cow’s tail that dangles from her hindquarters.

But this modern day fairy tale flourishes even before we happen upon the mythical creature. We are first introduced to an odd couple donning canary-colored hazmat suits, as they attempt to mop the liquefied remains of a long-gone “client” with sopping paper towels. It’s flunky Elvis’ (Erlend Nervold) first rodeo working beneath Leo (Jon Sigve Skard), an old comrade with whom he’s lost touch. Their fittingly-named crime scene clean-up assemblage? No Shit Cleaning Services.

The only solid evidence of the deceased is a solitary plastic curler amidst a puddle of goo, which is a testament to Aleksander Nordaas’ precise attention to detail. Despite his wearing numerous hats as writer, director, cinematographer and set decorator, this visual is even more unsettling than weak-stomached Elvis tossing his cookies into the nearest bucket every chance he gets.

On their next assignment the pair stumble upon a intently-hidden cellar door beneath an old outhouse. Through a series of reticent dares (inspiring equal parts humor and suspense) they make their way through each room discovering timeworn equipment, canned goods, bottled organs and anatomical charts – but most curious of all is a tub brimming with milky water just opaque and ripply enough to result in a frozen death grip on my Drafthouse burger.

Once revealed, Silje Reinamo as the feral Thale exhibits the palpable bravura of a huldra despite her inability to communicate by words with the men who’ve discovered her, not to mention the sheer vulnerability of appearing stark-naked for the film’s duration. It’s with this last characterization that the film deserves added merit. Thale’s unclothed-state feels rather natural and un-sexualized -- prude as it may sound a rarity in a festival full of adolescent-minded boob-flashing.

In the room a man’s voice from a tape recorder untangles her mystery bit by bit, unveiling compunction and rationale. It’s with this and more that Nordaas aces the art of casual pacing and always seems to know the exact moment to build tension or throw in a twist or two.

Thale is a rare thing, at times haunting, atmospheric, hilarious, violent and wholly beautiful. It’s an intimate tale about larger than life obstacles that manages to elicit gentle humanity all the while.