Considering the film's trailer and the fact that it was the centerpiece at last year's Screamfest, it would appear the Norwegian film Thale wishes to self identify as a horror film. While a better genre selection eludes me, that approach seems like a marketing ploy the film cannot live up to.
Thale contains brief moments of gore, small bits of tension, and even creatures one might feel compelled to call monsters, but it is not a horror film. It has little interest in violence and focuses its energy more on being atmospheric than scary. More than anything, Thale strives to tell a simple story about two buddies and some life changing secrets they've been keeping from each other, while adding a tragic second story about a girl who was taken from her people and abused for years.
So if you go into Thale expecting horror, even high concept but lightweight Norwegian/Finnish horror like Rare Imports or Troll Hunter, you might come away disappointed. This is more of a slow burn character drama with a couple creatures thrown in to keep things interesting.
Thale tells the story of two guys who clean up dead bodies for a living, one a seasoned pro, the other a vomiting rookie. One day, they find a weird, slightly inhuman girl in a bathtub filled with milk. She had magical powers and a tail that clearly used to be attached to her ass but is now sitting in a mini-fridge. Instead of trying to hurt, rape, or exploit this girl like we might expect, the protagonists do their best to make her happy and comfortable while waiting for some back-up to arrive who can take her off their hands. In the meantime, they reveal hidden truths to each other and work out some of their problems.
That's all very nice, but it leads to a film with little tension or forward momentum. The mystery of what Thale is and how she came to be in that bathtub filled with sci-fi milk kind of writes itself, and the parts that don't are delivered without any fanfare or dynamics. A weird bit of forced conflict arrives in the third act with the sudden addition of tough guy Huldra hunters who interrupt everyone's bonding party in an attempt to capture Thale, but that stuff comes and goes a lot faster than you might expect.
That's not really a complaint, though. This is a quiet film. And its minuscule 78-minute running time means Thale never wears out its welcome despite having a glacial pace. It provides characters worth caring about as well as visuals worth sticking around for. When Thale does finally hit its climax, we get something that's not scary so much as it's just really cool.
But while Thale is by all means a worthwhile and original film, its lack of weight and ambition keeps it from being anything truly special or must see. I liked it a lot but can't imagine watching it again or thinking about it much in the future, though I have a feeling others may appreciate its Huldras more than I did.
You can find out for yourself right now. Thale hits VOD today. If that's not good enough for you, it will be in limited theaters April 5th and on DVD soon after on April 23.