[10 June 2011]
Trollhunter (Trolljergeren) is the best time I’ve had at the movies this year. Norwegian director André Øvredal’s faux-found-footage creature feature manages to be frightening, funny, and engrossing all at the same time.
I didn’t expect to be impressed. Somewhere between The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, I grew tired of fake documentary horror films, not least because the jittery camerawork gives me a headache. But Trollhunter avoids that nauseating effect, employing a more conventional, and more stable, shooting style. Though it’s filmed entirely with a handheld camera, the shots are remarkably steady—even when people start running through the woods.
This effect is motivated by a basic plot point: Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Mørck), and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen), the rarely seen cameraman, are all film students. They’re making a movie about Hans (Otto Jespersen), a gruff woodsman they assume to be a local bear poacher who’s recently made the local news. Initially, he gives them the brush-off, but when the crew follows him into the woods one night, they discover the true nature of his nocturnal missions.
Hans is hunting. But he’s hunting something much, much bigger than bears. Specifically, he’s looking for trolls that have wandered out of their designated zones. He explains that an elaborate government conspiracy has left the general public ignorant of this threat, convincing people that trolls are only monsters in fairy tales. But these giant, stupid creatures, who eat everything in their path, including rocks, and can smell the blood of Christians, are real.
But after years of doing good work, Hans is tired. The long hours, lack of benefits and hazard pay, and, you know, that whole secrecy thing, are getting to him. So after making sure that none of the shocked teens believes in God, he invites them to come along as he tracks and exterminates trolls (for him, a routine task that involves a surprising amount of paperwork). Lately, he says, more and more trolls have been showing up where they’re not supposed to be, so Hans, with cameras in tow, means to figure out what the problem is.
Despite his weariness, Hans is tough, and Jesperson plays his part completely straight. His young companions listen carefully as he schools them in the rules of the hunt, like baiting traps with tasty troll treats (chunks of concrete and charcoal) and smearing themselves with troll stench, a hideous amalgamation of “everything you can squeeze out of a troll.”
Hans’ self-seriousness, and the kids’ mix of doubt and anxiety, help Trollhunter maintain an eerie “realness.” The pace hits a slight lull just before the final build to the climax begins, and could have been trimmed a few minutes, but given how good everything around it is, this is a minor misstep.
For the most part, the film is punctuated by a variety of money shots: unlike many found-footage monster films, where you’re lucky to get even a passing, obstructed glimpse of the beast, this one doesn’t skimp. You see the trolls in vivid detail, whether set against terrific mountain backdrops or haunting forests. And they look as good or better than any movie monsters you’ve seen since The Host. They almost look like really high-tech claymation, an idea that fits with the ridiculous premise without making them any less menacing. They resemble traditional Norwegian drawings of trolls—large, stumbling, and sometimes multi-headed—durably strange and never quite explicable.
Trollhunter has been available On Demand since May, and is scheduled for an August DVD release. But bear in mind: big trolls only look better on a big screen.