REVIEW: Trolljegeren [TrollHunter] [2010]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 103 minutes | Release Date: October 29th, 2010 (Norway)
Studio: SF Norge A/S / Magnet Releasing
Director(s): André Øvredal
Writer(s): André Øvredal

“Does anyone here believe in God or Jesus?”

Forget the fairy tales. This is what Hans (Otto Jespersen) says in deadpan to the young college students that decide to follow him around. All of their giggles and winking smirks toward their camera at the mention of trolls only make this hardened man want to tell them the truth more. He has been at it too long, has been thrown around and clawed at too often, and the pay simply sucks. Towing the company line until he no longer can, Hans puts caution to the wind and lets these kids in on Norway’s biggest secret. Trolls do exist, ladies and gentlemen. They aren’t cute little humanoids with colorful mohawks either; no, these creatures are monsters that should never be taken lightly.

Trolljegeren [TrollHunter] tells the story of Norway’s only hunter. Hans exists in the darkness as one of the world’s greatest heroes, riding through the landscapes in a gouged, battered, and ripped Land Rover. The country’s small community of licensed bear hunters holds him in the lowest esteem believing he’s a poacher, but this assumption couldn’t be farther from the truth. Employed by a government agency called Troll Security Service (TSS), Hans is the foremost authority when it comes to the many variations on mountain and forest trolls inhabiting his land. Under the gaze of Finn Haugen (Hans Morten Hansen), a bureaucratic stooge spinning stories of bear attacks, this ex-Marine leafs through the papers to find the telltale signs of troll mischief. He kills the beasts with his giant ultra-violet radiating flashlights, covers it up, and continues on to keep his country safe.

And thus, Hans brings Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Mørck), and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen) into his world. All they wanted was a comment from the accused poacher on why he was killing bears, never expecting where curiosity would take them. Tragedy strikes through the ever-increasing levels of danger: Thomas is bitten, one of the trio is found to be a Christian—a ripe smell the trolls can pick out lickity-split—and their enemy’s size grows larger as an illness is uncovered. Kalle holds the camera as they run from the stench and noise of growling screams, Johanna never lets go of the boom mic as she lauds ‘told-ya-soes’ at the non-believing boys, and Thomas does his best to remain fearless like their guide. Each actor plays it effectively with just the right amount of nervous energy, portraying the unnatural movements of non-actors in lieu of exposing the artifice at play.

These kids soon become pawns in the conspiracy, never quite understanding the amount of worry they should possess. The trolls they encounter aren’t even the largest enemy they face when you have the Norwegian government on their tail. Threatening to destroy the tapes and full of disappointment towards their unheralded soldier of war, Finn and his men will stop at nothing to keep their secret intact. The fear to talk in the demeanor of a veterinarian, Hilde (Torunn Lødemel Stokkeland), should make them pause and think about what they were doing, but the hubris of the young sitting atop a gold mine is never easy to dismantle. They want nothing more than to continue the story and put to tape every troll they can with the guidance of Hans. But as we soon see in the scars ravaging his body, the skill and experience he’s honed over the years are not things cultivated overnight.

André Øvredal’s faux documentary does a fantastic job in creating a realistic mythology. A ‘found footage’ document in the vein of The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, his subject matter is too fantastical to try to believe. As a result it falls between the two—not quite as scary or relevant as the former and more entertaining than the laborious latter. Trolls themselves hold a somewhat comical stigma so you can bet there will be laughs along the way to disguise the filmmakers’ fear journeying into the woods, but in my opinion there’s too much. I like the idea that these kids laugh at what they believe to be fairy tale, ribbing the seriousness of their documentary’s subject while finding it hard to report with a straight face. Where the disgust at rubbing troll scent on their bodies is a welcome bit of gross-out fun, though, a sequence of the monsters farting in the faces of their hunters is beyond unnecessary.

Despite small lapses, however, TrollHunter is a brilliantly orchestrated ruse. The computer animation is nothing short of astounding, constantly keeping consistent with whatever visual filter used. Whether night vision, normal light, or the flicker of Hans’ large torches, the many forms of trolls never cease to amaze in how real their inclusion in the frame feels. The plethora of scientific tidbits thrown about—rampant stupidity, growing decoy heads as they grow older within a 1,000-1,200 year lifespan, and their inability to process Vitmain D leading explosion or petrifaction at the hands of sunlight—only helps enhance their verisimilitude. They span between the size of bears to that of a small mountain, hoard their food under bridges just like the stories, and remain nocturnal with limited eyesight to contrast an enhanced sense of smell.

The film travels outside the usual box of vampires, witches, and demons to give a great insight into their monsters. Øvredal and company should be applauded for their ingenuity and resultingly unique spin on a genre we’ve seen only too much. The performances of the three filmmakers are endearing in much the same way as Blair Witch, never blowing us away, but also never feeling false. Jespersen is the one who steals scenes with his commanding presence. Delivering secrets only a handful of people know so they can be shown to the world—I love the power line bit—he is a man who’s been risking his neck far too long. It’s time to warn the public of the dangers lurking in the darkness beneath the earth and he sees the over-exuberance of a trio of meddling kids as just the outlet to share with. Between him and the effects work, especially during an attempt to take a troll blood sample and the final chase through snow-covered mountains, this film is not one to miss.

[1] A scene from TROLLHUNTER, a Magnet Release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.
[2] Otto Jespersen, Johanna Mørck & Tomas Alf Larsen in TROLLHUNTER a Magnet Release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.
[3] A scene from TROLLHUNTER, a Magnet Release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

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