If for nothing else, 'Thale' will go down as the first to feature a huldra, a mythical forest creature from Scandinavian folklore, as part of its central premise. Or at least, it's a first for Western audiences, and it works as part of its charm. When two crime-scene cleaners inadvisably explore the shambled basement of their latest client and discover a beautiful woman currently hiding there, we're immediately intrigued about her history and origins. She jumps out at the unwitting coworkers from a bathtub full of what looks like milk water, naked and terrified of the two equally-terrified men standing over her. As they explore the rest of the room, they slowly learn, as we do, that she's the unfortunate victim of some bizarre test lab.
A few minutes earlier, we're shown that of these two, one of them doesn't have the stomach for this sort of work. The inexperienced Elvis (Erlend Nervold) vomits into the same bucket used for picking up some unsightly remains. Nauseating at the first sight of blood, Nervold provides a bit of comedy to the proceedings, which is good because things grow progressively series and creepy pretty quick. Leo (Jon Sigve Skard), on the other hand, isn't fazed in the slightest, likely coming from years of seeing some of the most gruesome displays of human violence. Skard is the calm, level-headed type, undaunted by the discovery in the basement and always thinking on his toes amid the most terrifying moments.
Silje Reinåmo plays the nymph-like creature named Thale by the shadowy, unknown man who presumably imprisoned her and possibly performed some ghastly experiments. The man is only known by his voice from a collection of cassette tapes Elvis seems compelled to play for some reason and whose body we're made to think he's there originally to retrieve. A secret, hidden passage in the darkest corner of the basement leads to a well-kept bedroom where Thale hides underneath a bed and soothingly hums to herself. Eventually, and mostly through a shared flashback sequence between Thale and Elvis, we learn of her mysterious mythological origins and her relationship with the faceless man.
On the surface of it, 'Thale' is another in a long line of supernatural fantasy tales popping up all around the world and inspired by pre-existing material. But rather than setting the plot in some imagined far-distant past, writer and director Aleksander Nordaas imagines it in the present, as if the folkloric creatures have always lived amongst us and continue to thrive without us being aware of them. Only his second full-length feature, although he's made a few short films as well, Nordaas does admirably behind the camera, maintaining a high-level of mystery throughout and keeping the audience guessing. Even at the height of the climax, when hints of a government conspiracy emerge, we're left wondering of Thale's existence and future.
Unlike other, better-budgeted fantasy movies, Nordaas does surprisingly great on limited funds, making do with production restraints and using them to his creative advantage. Some CG animation is also kept to a minimum, which is to the film's benefit because it sadly looks cheap and shoddy. Instead, our attention is focused on the interaction of the three main characters, and the two friends' attempt at making sense of what they're witnessing. The narrative does, however, feel a bit sluggish in the middle of the second act, slowing down the pace. When clocking in at a very brisk 76 minutes, this unfortunately drags things out some. Yet, this is only one small hiccup in an otherwise entertaining low-budget flick.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
XLrator Media brings 'Thale' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack. The Region A locked, BD25 disc sits on a panel opposite a DVD-5 copy inside a blue, eco-cutout keepcase. Several skippable trailers are at startup and then switch to a menu screen with full-motion clips and music.
Shot digitally, 'Thale' surfaces out of mythical folklore to Blu-ray with a AVC-encoded transfer that shows both the positives and negatives of filming with HD cameras. Most apparent drawback is the movie looking and feeling as if we're watching someone's home video, giving the overall presentation a very languid and lifeless appeal. This doesn't appear to be an aesthetic choice as much as the result of budgetary constraints and limitations of the equipment used. As is typical, contrast runs slightly hotter than normal, creating a good deal of blooming in the highlights and some very mild posterization on a few shiny surfaces. It also takes away a tad from some of the finer details.
Luckily, the rest of the 1.78:1 image doesn't suffer much, as black levels are generally true and deep. The color palette is accurately rendered for the most part, with primaries looking particularly bold and bright. Biggest benefit is in the fine-object detailing both in the vivid exterior sequences and in the many poorly-lit interiors. Lines in hair, clothing and surrounding foliage are distinct while close-ups are quite revealing although facial complexions tend to appear somewhat sickly. In the end, the high-def presentation has its positives and negatives but watchable.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, in the original Norwegian, makes a better impression than the video. It's a very subtle design which employs the surrounds with good directionality. From the forest creatures living their daily existence to the random objects shifting inside closing rooms, the lossless mix is amusing at generating a wide, creepy soundfield. It's not always consistent, but quite effective and convincing.
Many of these same effects continue in the fronts, creating a discrete and broad imaging that's also engaging. The mid-range, however, feels largely limited and somewhat lacking. Thankfully, clarity and detailing are excellent, capable of still providing a good show. There isn't much going on in the bass department, but a few entertaining moments display some mild low-end extension which provides scenes with some weight and depth. Dialogue reproduction is clear and intelligible in the center, making this high-rez track is very good listen and complement to the story.
A theatrical preview is the only available supplement.
Inspired by Scandinavian folklore about mythical forest creatures, 'Thale' follows two friends in their discovery of what could be a huldra. The movie's success comes mostly from the mystery surrounding the origins and life of the beautiful Thale, and it makes for a decent piece of entertainment. The Blu-ray arrives with passable picture quality and a better audio presentation. Sadly, with a trailer and a DVD copy serving as supplements, this bare-bones package is best served as a rental.