Written by: André Øvredal, Håvard S. Johansen
Directed by: André Øvredal
Starring: Otto Jespersen, Robert Stoltenberg and Knut Nærum
Reviewed by: Brett G.
“Have you got all the troll footage you need?”
Usually found under bridges and frequenting internet message boards, trolls once again infiltrate the big screen in this Norwegian found footage film. I think we can all say with great certainty that we won’t come across many Scandinavian mockumentaries about trolls, so Troll Hunter already has that going for it. And the best part? It actually proves to be as fresh, funny, and exciting as it sounds.
A group of college kids set out to film the exploits of bear hunter extraordinaire Hans (Otto Jespersen), who has drawn the ire of other local hunters. Considered a poacher, Hans has sort of become a hunting pariah; he also proves to be quite an enigma for these college students, who have trouble getting him to say so much as a word. One night, they follow him into the woods, and he comes out screaming one very unexpected word: “troll.” Apparently, this guy hasn’t been hunting bears at all, but rather, huge trolls that roam about wreaking havoc.
I suppose this is the part where I tell you that Troll Hunter is like Cloverfield by way of The Blair Witch Project, which probably still sells it a bit short. That reduction misses out on the gentle, clever wit that drives the whole thing; while the absurd premise isn’t fully played for laughs, there’s an understated sassiness at work. This movie requires a grown man to proclaim his service to something called the “Troll Security Service” and say it with a straight face; it’s almost a subtle satire, as the existence of trolls isn’t the most amazing thing these students stumble upon. Instead, it’s how these trolls have existed right under everyone’s nose and have become a matter of government bureaucracy. Without being fully versed in Norwegian politics, I can only guess at what the trolls are meant to symbolize, but I imagine they can universally substitute for any major problem that gets swept under government rugs and is subsequently ignored by the populace. At one point, one of the students asks how something like this could go on without being noticed, which is exactly what’s on our mind, of course.
The answer to this question is buried within an elaborate, decades-old web of conspiracy. Hans has been caught up in it for years, leaving him grizzled and weary about his government-mandated position. When we first meet him, he’s as gruff and laconic as you can imagine an old troll-hunting badass can be; however, the layers soon begin to peel away and we see him more of a reluctant hero rather than an obsessive Ahab type. Fed up with it all, he sees these students as a way to expose it all to the public. In a film featuring enormous trolls, Jespersen actually manages to be the biggest presence in the film, which is probably correct considering the title. This is about the troll hunter, not the trolls. “I hate this crap,” he declares, clad in ridiculous armor before heading off to do battle with his nemesis (at a bridge where he uses three goats as bait, naturally).
This is not to sell the trolls short; they are fully realized not only through seamless computer effects, but with an attentive script. Writer/director Øvredal has a clear eye for detail, as he goes to great lengths to establish this weird, hidden underworld of troll hunting. There are many rules involved, some of which are borrowed from folklore (such as the trolls’ distaste for light, which turns them to stone). It’s interesting just how clinically and biologically this film grounds such a fantastic premise; I don’t think Carl Linnaeus ever anticipated there being several different species of trolls to be classified. I wonder if the film isn’t somehow commenting on the loss of fancy and magic in the modern world; there is certainly a sense of awe when the trolls are first seen, but it soon gives way to all of the bureaucratic nonsense.
And this is not to mention the genocidal implications of what the government has done to the troll population over the years (another obvious metaphor the film has to offer). There’s also an interesting plot thread concerning religion, as apparently trolls are able to sniff out the blood of those who believe in “God or Jesus”; the students laugh off and even disdain the notion that they’re such believers, even though one of them is lying (which, as you can imagine, has bad implications). It’s an odd dimension, one that seems to put belief systems on the table to be examined; fantastical trolls have become a matter of fact whereas God has not. Is the trolls’ targeting of Christians meant to symbolize religious persecution? Perhaps.
Adding to the authenticity is the found footage style; like other films out of this mode, Troll Hunter sets out to create an enveloping experience with some dizzying, natural camerawork and intricate, immersive sound design. The horror of the experience comes into play when Øvredal uses his naturally spooky environments (like the deep dark woods) and keeps things hidden. Before we ever see a troll, we hear them and feel them through some Jurassic Park style thuds in the distance. Once revealed, the trolls are rather fantastically designed and well integrated into the live action. It’s the frenzied chaos of being chased by them that really sells the terror, though I might argue that being trapped in a lair with a farting troll seems most terrifying. That’s one of many humorous moments that punctuate the film, which only really features three full-on troll sequences; all the stuff in between manages to be more interesting anyway, particularly when it all becomes a race to preserve the damning footage.
Troll Hunter is a delightful little surprise--it’s smart, unexpectedly sardonic, yet simply fun. It’s not only a great entry in the found footage oeuvre, but also a great shake-up of the giant monster movie. Like other great ones, its monsters reveal the monsters within ourselves, even if it’s doing it with a tongue planted in its monstrous cheek. A festival circuit darling, The Troll Hunter received a limited theatrical release earlier this summer before recently hitting DVD and Blu-ray from Magnet Releasing. The standard-def disc is strong, boasting a solid transfer that reflects the film’s natural look; the 5.1 soundtrack is very impressive, which brings the film alive. Special features include deleted scenes, improv and blooper footage, dextended scenes, a visual effects feature, photo galleries, and an HD Net promo. Hunt it down and prepare to be entertained. Buy it!
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