There are a lot of weird and wonderful things going on in the Scandinavian film scene these days. A few weeks ago I was waxing eloquently (as much as my editor let me, that is) on a couple of recent thrillers from Norway, movies that are as good or better than most other such genre efforts cluttering the American cineplexes. Unfortunately, the majority of moviegoers here don’t want to read the dialogue spoken by actors and actresses whom they don’t readily recognize.
Fans of horror and fantasy films are generally more forgiving about such requirements, and so for them (and me) home video has proved a real boon, as can be attested by two films that have recently made their way onto Blu-ray. Both are from Norway (again), attesting that imagination is thriving in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
Trollhunter (2010) is another found-footage film, but worlds better (more fun and more original) than most such efforts wallowing in the wake of The Blair Witch Project. The film opens with no titles or credits, declaring that the unedited footage we are about to see is the work of a three-person team of Norwegian college students (now missing), who were intent on exposing the wanton destruction of native wildlife by poachers.
When the paths of the witless students cross those of a Norwegian version of Crocodile Dundee named Hans (Otto Jespersen), they soon learn that conservation in Norway takes on a much larger dimension than they ever suspected. Hans is employed by the government to contain and maintain the troll population in the hinterlands, and lately there have been lots of problems with the mythic monsters of fairy lore. They are mad and hungry.
Trollhunter plays it straight but with a rich comic subtext that in no way detracts from the seemingly absurd premise. The cinematography of Norwegian landscapes is often stunning, and the special effects are state-of-the-art. What really raises the film above similar such efforts, however, is the script and the performances, both of which rescue the characters from stereotypes – the bane of genre movies. Jespersen especially is wonderful.
Naturally an American remake is already in production while writer/director Andre Ovredal is currently attached to an Irish/Australian sci-fi thriller called Emergence, currently designated by the dreaded “in development.” I would rather see his new film than another English-speaking rip-off.
Very different but just as good is Thale (pronounced tah-lay), a 2012 film written and directed by Aleksander L. Nordaas, an esthetic (if not ethnic) descendant of David Lynch. Basically a three-person film (except for the concluding segment), Thale deals with two luckless guys named Elvis (Erlend Nevold) and Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) whose unenviable job is to clean up after messy deaths. Their current assignment takes them to a remote cabin in the woods where, among other things, they discover a young female hidden (initially) in a bathtub of milky liquid.
Her name is Thale (Silje Reinamo), they discover, but just who (and what) she is unfolds over a spare running time of 76 mins. Without giving too much away, she turns out to be a “huldra,” a creature from Nordic folklore who is part-siren, part-fairy. We learn her complicated story without a word of dialogue from Silje Reinnamo (in a remarkably effective performance), but the more mundane concerns of sad sacks Leo and Elvis also remain front and center.
A minimum of plot spoilers here, I promise you. Thale, unlike Trollhunter, is more character study than plot-driven, more drama than thrills. It’s weird alright, and ominous. But what remains, more than anything else, is a sense of wonder, like that engendered by a fairy tale, however ominous its premise.
For the adventurous who like Thale, check out Aleksander Nordaas’s new free web series, Made in Mosjoen. It’s Twin Peaks squared … and then some.