Norway (2012) Dir. Aleksander Nordaas
Two crime scene cleaners Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) and Elvis (Erlend Nervold) are attending to a job at a small cottage located deep in the woods where they discover a secreted passageway which leads to a hidden basement cum crude laboratory, with a bath full of milky water with tubes sticking out of it. As Leo phones in his request for police assistance a naked young woman named Thale (Silje Reinåmo) leaps out of the bath and attacks Elvis. But that is only half the story.
Shot on a threadbare budget of just $10,000 Aleksander Nordaas – who assumed many roles behind the scenes and shot most of it in his father’s basement – shares a slice Norwegian folklore with the rest of the world it was is a fairly well made and atmospheric yearn. The legend revolves around a beast called the Huldra, beautiful forest dwelling women who live in the water sport a cow’s tail. They possess supernatural powers and entice male victims to join them in the water where they feast upon them. The origins of the story are said to be as a warning to children to stay away from lakes and rivers in the forests.
Our two cleaners, the stoic Leo and queasy Elvis, find themselves in the company of the mute Thale, unaware that she is a Huldra. After calming her down Leo and Elvis learn from some old audio tapes that she was taken in by the now deceased owner of the cottage where he seemed to be offering her sanctuary from an unknown tormentor. Through narrated flashbacks from the cassettes we are able to discern that Thale was only young when she was brought to the cottage and that it appears to have been experimented on as a child. The tubes leading to the bath tub were feeding Thale and keeping her alive but for how long we don’t know.
Among the many abilities Thale possesses is instant healing and a telepathic sharing of her memories with any she touches – in this case Elvis who gets to have a first hand account of the parts of the story the cassettes don’t reveal. Thale is very sacred but seems to trust her new companions who are waiting for the police to arrive. However someone else is showing an interest in the cottage and don’t appear to be all that friendly. As for Thale, when she is under threat she isn’t particularly friendly either.
The film itself is different from most fare and despite the horror tag, isn’t that gory. The scares are largely jumps built of scenes of quiet tension and impending doom when our disparate trio are trapped inside the basement as unwelcome interlopers make their presence known. Thale’s debut appearance is a heart stopper as sudden as it is while even the simple ringing of the phone is used to great effect to make the audience jump. The fantasy element is largely played down but that makes this whole affair more eerie, creating an impression that it *could* actually happen! The story takes an unexpected turn when a group of armed men show up who are not the police and may know about Thale. The weakness here is that we know nothing about them or their motives but I will say that they are in for a surprise.
For the title role Nordess has cast the stunning Silje Reinåmo, who physically and emotionally bares all without saying a single word throughout the film. Ridiculously sexy, Reinåmo conveys the actions of a mythical monster awoken after many years in a state of complete confusion, effectively reduced to being no more than a frightened child. She is both sympathetic and convincingly feral when necessary and looks great with a tail! As Thales’s two rescuers Leo and Elvis, Jon Sigve Skard and Erlend Nervold both have that everyman look about them so the idea of them being the nominal heroes were this a US horror flick, is never a concern for the audience, thus making them more believable as characters.
Clocking in a measly 74 minutes one would be amazed at how much Nordass was able to include in his film, from fleshing out the characters to modernising the Huldra fairy tale and tell a suspenseful and engaging story in the process. If the film was given a few more minutes some of the kinks in the story could have been ironed out and the conclusion could have been a tad more dynamic and decisive than what we got, but it is what it is.
The most remarkable facet to take away from watching this film is how the paltry budget doesn’t show as a detriment to the enjoyment with some top notch camerawork (from Nordess himself) and some very impressive CGI that probably ate up most of the funding! Another fine example of the maxim “less is more” and an achievement Nordess can be proud of!
With the film doing bigger business outside of Norway than in it, the news is that a sequel is in the works which is good news as it was clear there was more to tell. As it stands Thale offers something new to those of us unfamiliar with the Huldra legend and does so in an impressive manner for a low budget outing. Worth a watch.