OCTOBER 17, 2012
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (SCREAMFEST)
It was an oddly low-key affair for this year's centerpiece film at Screamfest; while the slot is usually taken by an anticipated film (House of the Devil was the selection in 2009) or something from a Screamfest vet, like last year's Livid (Inside being one of the biggest hits of the 2007 incarnation). But Thale is a Norwegian film from an absent director who was dipping into horror territory for the first time, and attendance was smaller than the movies on Monday and Tuesday nights. Bummer.
Also, their loss, because it was a fine (if imperfect) film that continued a tradition of this year's fest - mostly unique, not very commercial concepts that minimized the sort of imagery you'd probably expect from a "horror movie festival". Not counting shorts, I haven't seen a single zombie the entire time, and the only masked killer was in The Collection, which I believe was shown out of competition anyway. Folks always ask me what movies I'm looking forward to at a particular festival, and then look at me cross-eyed when I say I have no idea - I go in blind as often as possible; sometimes not even remembering the name of the movie I'm about to see. I just GO.
And that probably worked in my favor, because the trailer for Thale plays up the suspense and "monster" stuff, and thus I might have been disappointed to see that it's actually pretty tame; like Resolution, the core of the film is about the friendship between the two male leads, who work together at the "No Shit" cleaning service, mopping up crime scenes and the like. Each man has something they are trying to hide from the other, and while it's understated, the monster and her presence inadvertently helps them get past their issues with their personal lives, and seemingly strengthens their friendship as well. Aww, nice monster.
I shouldn't call her a monster, actually. The eponymous Thale is a human-looking being from a race of woodland creatures that prefer to live on their own and seem pretty harmless unless threatened. Of course, being a genre film, they ARE threatened, by some hazmat-wearing scientist jerks, but that's not until the 3rd act of this not very long movie. At 75 minutes, certain elements don't really have the time to gel, and this would certainly be one of them - they're like the villainous version of those commandos that show up out of nowhere at the end of Jurassic Park III and save the day so the movie can end five minutes later. And that's not the only thing that felt abrupt about the conclusion; it seems like there should have been another scene between our three primary characters, or at least some attempt at closure, but alas.
But I guess that's par for the course with slow burn films - the payoff tends to be abrupt, as if the filmmaker ran out of patience (not unlike, incidentally, House of the Devil). It takes a while for our guys to come across Thale, and a lot of the time in between that and the finale is spent listening to tapes, trying their cell phones, talking about what the other is hiding from them, etc. In some ways it reminded me a bit of The Devil's Rock (two guys find a female creature that may have been contained for their own good), but that film made up for its contained nature and limited action by having the two men at odds with each other. This almost has no real conflict at all until the hazmat guys show up, so if you're not interested in their characters or just hearing the story of who/what Thale is, this won't be the movie for you.
And that's something that bugs me about a certain type of alleged horror fans - they never seem to care about the characters. Sure, the popularity of Friday the 13th sequels and the like probably groomed them into thinking that we're not SUPPOSED to, but that's what sub-genres are for. I know I'll read comments and IMDb posts for this film that say it's too slow and "nothing happens", and that's because they won't be looking at it through the perspective of these two guys encountering something that makes them re-evaluate their lives. They'll just want to see Thale killing folks or whatever, not realizing that if they want a movie that cynical they can just re-watch whatever monster movie they wish. It's like bitching that your salad doesn't taste like a McDonald's hamburger - just eat another goddamn McDonald's hamburger then! Thus, my advice for anyone going in is to look at it more of a character drama than a horror flick, and let it pull you in that way.
What say you?