Troll Hunter Review

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Student filmmakers Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud) and Johanna (Johanna Mørck) set out to shoot a documentary about bear-hunting in Norway and trail mysterious, well-armed woodsman Hans (Otto Jesperson), whom they assume is a poacher. However, Hans turns o


In the last ten years, ‘found footage’ horror movie — presenting scratchy-looking scenes which document actual events, shot by characters who almost certainly didn’t survive them — has become its own sub-genre. The Blair Witch Project, the breakthrough film in this category, adopted shaky-cam and improvised chatter from budgetary necessity, since its makers’ resources didn’t stretch to having the witch show up onscreen. Since then, the form has evolved, and it’s no longer a matter of making do with suggestion because there isn’t enough money for a monster. In the era of Cloverfield, even productions which can afford state-of-the-art effects go to some trouble to mimic the rough-and-ready feel of penurious efforts such as Man Bites Dog or Paranormal Activity. After a reel or two of ciné-vérité jitter and whiskery Norwegian mumbling, it’s something of a shock when this picture from a not-yet-fashionable territory delivers big-scale action and effects far more sophisticated, imaginative and impressive than those of, say, Clash Of The Titans. This is not a picture to skimp on the giant monster action.

Like Rare Exports, which put a black comic-horrific Finnish spin on the legend of Santa Claus, Troll Hunter reclaims a local mythology which has been watered down in international pop culture. The whole picture seems based on an offhand remark by the Prime Minister of Norway at a press conference, when he lets slip that the ugly pylons which carry power-lines through picturesque remote areas are a necessity because “Norway has trolls”. The cables are really electric fences designed to keep the man-slaying giants out of inhabited areas. Otto Jesperson makes an indelible character out of the veteran troll-hunter who gives the callow filmmakers an insight into his profession. The movie trots out its troll lore with a straight face, and builds big scenes around such gimmicks as the monster traditionally lurking under a bridge and an ogre’s ability to sniff out the true Christians which are its favoured snacks. When the secret true believer in the group meets an unfortunate end, the filmmakers are forced to hire a Muslim replacement — though an opening caption indicates that this crew are as likely to join the missing lists as the Blair Witch trio.

The format lets Jesperson create a character, but shoves almost all the other players offscreen for the most part (a given in these films, where someone has to hold the camera). The structure is much the same as any Ray Harryhausen picture: every ten minutes a new monster shows up, roaring and blustering, forcing the heroes to devise a means of defeating it, while the incidental body count rises. The creatures here have more character than most monsters, since trolls are a sub-humanoid race with individual traits rather than simple dinosaur or blob-type monsters. There is even an attempt to evoke sympathy for a perhaps-endangered species and suggest that the ruthless Norwegian state, which goes out of its way to provide cover stories to conceal monster activity, is partially responsible for the unending troll wars.

You might need to take a Norwegian guide along to explain various local references and identify the specific trolls, but Troll Hunter’s proud cultural identity — tremble, a US remake is in the works — is its strongest suit. It’s wry, spectacular fun.