Generally speaking, Scandinavian cinema is more associated with dolorous dramas than epic adventure — but that might be about to change, thanks to Troll Hunter, from director André Øvredal (the association with accented letters stands). A Norwegian fairy tale told as a mock-documentary, it takes as its premise the idea that trolls are alive and well and living in remote areas of Norway — from which they sometimes escape to make trouble.
Bearing obvious comparisons to The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield (although it’s lighter than either), we follow three student filmmakers (Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Mørck, Tomas Alf Larsen) making a film about bear hunters. But one loner catches their eye, and after they dog his steps, they realise that it’s not bears he’s after. Otto Jespersen, the troll hunter of the title, is a matter-of-fact government employee but — disillusioned with his superiors — agrees to talk to the documentarians and allow them to follow his journey.
“I wanted it to be grounded in something Norwegian,” says Øvredal. “And the documentary style was to maximise the potential, because I realised that I can’t do a film like Jurassic Park in Norway. So the first thing I told the producer after I pitched the idea was, ‘We’re going to shoot it as a documentary.’ He immediately saw how that was going to work.”
The tone of the film treads somewhere between horror, comedy and adventure, landing somewhere in unmissable territory. “I didn’t want to make it a comedy, per se, and I didn’t want to make a horror movie where I would alienate the people who went there for an adventure film. I definitely intended it to have a fairy-tale quality.”
With a rogues’ gallery of trolls, ranging from the faintly cuddly to the monstrously terrifying, and a brilliantly deadpan performance from Jespersen, this could be the film to reclaim the word “troll” from internet provocateurs: see it before Hollywood remakes it. And read on below for Øvredal's description of his monsters...
"Our artist, Havard S. Johansen, was working for months on how the trolls were going to look. This is one where we were discussing how far from Norwegian troll mythology do we dare go? This was too far off, but it was fun to play around with."
"This one looks like Cousin Itt from The Addams Family! This was the genesis for the trolls in the cave, which were overgrown. We had to develop a shape, then work on the nose, the fur and the facial expressions."
"I wanted this creature to be quite schizophrenic, in that it wants to go in three directions at once. This is one of the first sketches. It’s based on the drawings of Theodor Kittelsen and the guys who drew these things in the 18th century."
"This is the start of the troll that ended up under the bridge. It has a warrior look — muscular and bullish. The spikes are based on how the stone that is supposed to grow on his back behaves. But we decided it looked too extreme."
"This is the final troll in the movie, or the genesis of that. Again, with the trees on his back we were experimenting. This troll is hundreds of years old, so he’s a little stooped over, like an old man."