It is safe to assume that Elvis and Leo do a job that few people could stomach. They clean up crime scenes. After the bodies have been removed, they clean up the pools of blood and bits of human remains that litter the scene. It’s not a pleasant job but somebody’s got to do it. Decked out in masks and bright yellow hazmat suits, they go about their business, picking up the pieces of someone else’s inhumanity against his fellow man.
From the first moment, it becomes clear that Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) is easily equipped to handle this. Elvis (Erlend Nervold), who vomits profusely into a nearby bucket, seems less so. From this unappetizing scene, we get the feeling that Thale will be a movie about what these guys do for a living. Indeed, following their day to day routine might have been fascinating, but admittedly hard to stomach. Yet, we soon find that we’re wrong. Thale is an odd, mysterious and somewhat beguiling supernatural thriller from Norway that is built on mood and atmosphere and suspense made up of things that we learn along the way. It is a relief to find a movie this quiet and moody when so many thrillers fall back on the standard of jack-in-the-box terror.
In a series of creepy images banded with effectively melancholy music, the next scene reveals quick-cut elements that we only understand later. Leo and Elvis find that their next job is to clean up a crime scene that reminds us, uncomfortably, of Buffalo Bill’s lair in The Silence of the Lambs. Waiting for a professional team to show up, Elvis begins to poke around. Something in the way this house is laid out seems to be more than meets the eye. Leo urges him not to go snooping around, but Elvis’ natural curiosity gets the better of him. A small cold filthy room reveals jars of liquids, strings of dim lights and a bathtub filled with milky water invites investigation, though a more cautious individual might have not have proceeded any further.
From this point, I may discuss certain plot points. So if you want to see the movie cold, you may want to stop here.
What he discovers isn’t all that unusual. Beneath the milky water is a naked girl who seems to have been there for some time. She is alive, but terrified. She doesn’t speak, but an old tape recorder reveals that her name is Thale (Silje Reinåmo). What Elvis comes to understand is that she is more than a victim. This room is more than a torture chamber, and her reasons for being in this location reveal that she is possibly not suppose to exist. Neither, by the way, is whatever is skulking around outside.
It would be cruel to reveal what happens next, but safe to say it isn’t what we expect. This isn’t one of those movie with screaming victims and cheapo shocks. It is the kind of movie where the thrills come from what the characters discover for themselves. Elvis and Leo have stumbled upon something that is possibly bigger than both of them. Holed up in that room with Thale, something else manifests itself, something else that isn’t suppose to exist.
What is even more interesting is what we learn about Elvis and Leo along the way. In just a few tiny passages of dialogue, Elvis and Leo become full-blooded people, not just pawns to be chased around by a boogeyman. It is curious to see a supernatural thriller like this that takes a few seconds to give its characters a bit of dimension. They aren’t fully-realizes souls but they have lives that we can imagine exist apart from their predicament.
Having recently sat through the halfwit (not to mention boring) nonsense of Fede Alvarez’s remake of Evil Dead, this movie comes as a breath of fresh air. While it isn’t a perfect film, Thale exudes a measure of tension and grounds its story in reality before revealing the supernatural forces that are present. This is the kind of movie that builds slowly, giving us time to discover things. It has the patience to reveal the story as it unfolds rather than explain everything all at once and then march us to an inevitable conclusion. It may not be to every taste. It moves slowly and has long passages where we wait for something to happen, but given the sad state of most other films in this genre, we welcome the chance to discover things for ourselves.