Troll Hunter (2010)
Directed by André Øvredal
Written by André Øvredal, Håvard S. Johansen
Run Time: 103 minutes
Starting this review by saying that “Trollhunter” is like “The Blair Witch Project” meets “Cloverfield” gives the impression that this is a true Suck Fest. But it’s not – a Suck Fest, I mean. Trollhunter may steal from those two movies, but it also does each one better. It beats “Blair Witch” because it has a budget that allows for some interesting visuals. (According to a 2011 interview Ovredal did for Wired, the total budget was $3.5 million, with $1 million going towards special effects for the trolls.) It beats out “Cloverfield” for a couple of reasons. One, it’s not so damn coy about it’s monsters. We actually learn something about them IN THE MOVIE ITSELF! (Warning: there WILL be a test after this review, and you will be expected to know the meaning of the word “Tusseladd.”) Second, it doesn’t chain us to a group of bubble-headed 20-somethings and call it a day in the story department. Evoking shades of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and even “Moby Dick,” it gives us a charismatic central character in the troll hunter himself, beautifully played by Otto Jespersen.
Otto Jespersen as Hans the “Trolljegeren”
That’s not to say we don’t have 20-somethings in Trollhunter. We do, for the movie opens with 3 ambitious student documentarians out to track down a mysterious figure whose a kind of vigilante bear hunter. At first blush aspiring news reporter Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), sound-woman Johanna (Johanna Morck), and cameraman Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen) seem to be just another bunch of cute cartoon ciphers. But the actors, under Ovredal’s direction and (mostly improvised?) dialogue soon come across as real kids. A bit callow, given to snickering, and sometimes foolish, they never-the-less express an excitement in adventure, and even a thread of idealism that makes them more ingratiating company than the characters from the other movies.
I also appreciated that they have experience with professional equipment. This allows for a high quality picture with a minimum of headache inducing herky-jerky.
Back to that vigilante bear hunter. We don’t see him at first. We only hear rumors of him as our crew interviews licensed bear hunters who tell of a stranger who passes himself off as one of them, but who doesn’t seem “right.” Appetites for a scoop whetted, the crew drive out into the snow covered Norwegian countryside stalking their elusive quarry through one frozen camp site after another. The landscape, in fact, becomes a powerful presence in itself as the story takes us farther and farther away from the settled towns, and up onto the arctic plateau of Norway’s back country.
A shot of the Norwegian highway know as the “Troll’s Route”.
Finally, they spot something promising; a battered, strangely armored SUV and a grimy mobile home covered with eccentric equipment. But Hans, the hostile, taciturn man who comes with these intriguing vehicles will have nothing to do with them. Claiming there is no story he drives off. But our kids, transfixed by his air of mystery and authority know they are on to something, and give tenacious pursuit. They are, in fact, big game hunters themselves. Knowing that the mystery man only works at night they set up a nocturnal watch at his latest camp site. Following him after dark they nearly lose him, but when his SUV tracks leave the road they follow his tire tracks into a thickly forested area. Coming up to a fence they see a sign warning of danger because of a blasting operation. Do they do the sensible thing and turn back? No way! So off they trudge, on foot, into the dark winter forest. They begin to hear some alarming sounds. Then strange flashes of light, and then before they know it, the man himself appears, running hell-for-leather towards them. Seeing the crew in his path he screams “TROLL!”
Director Ovredal remembers stories of trolls from his childhood. “They were meant to scare back then,” he said in his interview with Wired.com. “Today, troll depictions are usually very cozy and sweet, even Norwegian depictions of them, but back then they were really frightening creatures. And I wanted to go back to that when I made the troll film.” Being ambitious, Ovredal went back to all the old stories and melded them into one comprehensive alternate reality. And so we have more than one kind of troll. Did you know that there are at least 4 different “species” of troll currently living in Norway? They range a great deal in size, appearance and habitats. But one thing they all share is that they are predators who enjoy the taste of human beings. And they all have the ability to smell the blood of a Christian man.
Hans and the crew probably feel like Goldilocks did when the Three Bears returned home.
In the shock and violence of their first troll encounter Thomas is wounded, but the shaken video crew is rewarded by a change of heart on the part of Hans. He’ll let them document his work. It’s a particularly exciting time for a video crew to cover, because he’s in the middle of a mysterious rash of troll attacks outside their normal territory. Property is being destroyed, and people are going missing. It’s his job to liquidate the rogues – before the public wakes up to the true nature of the menace. And so we learn that Hans is employed by a top secret government agency called the TSS, for Troll Security Service. Love it! Along with the funding, responsibility, and danger, comes the need to report to Finn Haugen (Hans Morten Hansen), a classic bureaucratic tool. The scene where Finn brings in a gang of Polish bear carcass smugglers is particularly funny.
And this is only the beginning. Sitting in Hans’ squalid motor home, which is somewhere between the lair of a serial killer and a hoarder’s den, Thomas, Johanna, and Kalle learn about Tusseladds, battery powered UV light generators, and a surprising fact behind high tension power lines. It’s all absurd, and it’s all a great deal of fun. Punctuating this traveling tutorial are several uniquely different troll encounters which avoid the repetitive boredom of the “action” scenes in something like “Monster.” Even better, we have some genuine dramatic progression. As Hans and the kids share danger and loss on their quest to discover the mystery behind the troll outbreak, a sense of mutual respect and affection develops. The bitter cynicism that comes from loneliness starts to melt in Hans, and the kids, finding a cause larger than their own careers, start to grow into adults. These developments are illustrated through small actions and subtle acting, not corny speeches or ham-handed sentiment, so they are a great pleasure to watch.
The climatic battle in Trollhunter begins. To get a better look at the various trolls, see the movie!
Sean Ledden April 2012
All in all, I think this is the best monster movie to come out since Bong Joon-ho’s “The Host” in 2006. But while that movie, with it’s dark and ambitious social commentary was harrowing, “Trollhunter” has a lighter touch. Never taking itself too seriously, but never devolving into dumb comedy, it manages to be exciting, creepy, and funny all at the same time. Check it out!
POST REVIEW QUIZ:
1. A Tusselad is a ….
a) Belgium tomato
b) kind of Norwegian troll
c) lead singer in a boy band.
If you are not sure, I recommend that you ask Dennis. Or see “Trollhunter.”
(Note from Dennis: See the movie! : ) )