Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Troll Hunter (2010)

Original title: Trolljegeren

As has happened a few dozen times before, the footage Troll Hunter consists of are the last traces of a plucky trio of film students (Tomas Alf Larsen, Johanna Morck, Glenn Erland Tosterud) that some mysterious anonymous has brought into the hands of the film's producers.

The footage shows the students attempting to solve the secret of a mysterious hunter (Otto Jespersen) who seems to follow the officially sanctioned hunters stalking the perpetrator of a series of bear attacks around. Though the hunter, going by the name of Hans, really doesn't want to have anything to do with our heroes, they begin to follow him secretly around Norway. One night, in a mightily impressive forest, they are attacked by something Hans, in a moment of overexcitement, identifies as a troll to them. Not surprisingly, the students are a bit sceptical about the existence of these particular creatures of myth, but when the gnarly, mono-syllabic Hans permits them to observe his work and interview him, they're soon quite convinced by what their own eyes show them.

Hans, you see, is the secret troll hunter of an arm of the Norwegian government desperately trying to keep trolls a secret and away from humans; it's Hans's job to kill those trolls roaming around outside their reservation. The hunter wouldn't usually talk about his work, but he has become somewhat disgruntled by the way his bureaucratic bosses are treating him.

Right now, it's a difficult time for him anyhow - for some reason, a whole lot of trolls has left their usual territories and is roaming around free, munching on stones, cows and civilians alike. Not surprisingly, running around with a film team isn't going to make the hunter's life any easier.

Just when I thought the POV/found footage style of filmmaking had found its all-time low with films like the two Paranormal Activitys and The Last Exorcism, there suddenly comes Norwegian director Andre Øvredal's Troll Hunter around to show me that there's still life in the old lady.

Troll Hunter also teaches us that you can make a comedy inside the POV sub-genre without making it a comedy about the POV sub-genre. A parody of the form would be the most obvious yet also the least interesting way to go about it. Instead, Øvredal goes into the more difficult, but also much more satisfying, direction of a bone-dry humour that's based on thinking the absurd premise of a government troll hunter through, while having a lot of fun with the details of his own worldbuilding. So obviously - and really, if you're living in Central or Northern Europe, it is so obvious that it's funny - Hans needs to fill out a form for every troll he kills, explaining if it exploded or turned to stone and probably also what direction the wind blew from. Details like this are presented with the straightest face imaginable, a tone that is responsible for a lot of Troll Hunter's effectiveness as a comedy; the absurd being something that is funniest when presented in as earnest a tone as possible.

The film has a lot of fun with applying elements of the troll belief from myth and children's books to its giant monsters. Did you know these creatures are really into the blood of Christians? And that certain modern Christian students wouldn't admit to being religious in front of their peers? Hilarity (and just possibly a dead Christian) ensues.

The Troll Hunter being a comedy doesn't mean it eschews the necessary (and beloved) elements of the giant monster movies I suspect its director and writer loves as much as I do, so there is as much of the mandatory gasping at big things stomping around as the budget allows. The trolls are in fact pretty fantastic looking CGI work that finds the sweet spot between the silly - they are based on the long-nosed children's book idea of trolls, after all - and the pretty darn impressive, without ever falling into the trap of avoiding to make the trolls menacing because they are absurd parts of a comedy a worse film would have stepped right into.

Further bonus points go to Øvredal's careful, nausea-avoiding use of shaky cam. Øvredal never overuses that most unloved part of the POV horror style, giving using shots stable enough to let one believe the student filmmakers here were actually competent. The director even shows us a lot of the trolls quite clearly, giving the whole affair a feeling of veracity an overuse of shaking and wobbling could easily have destroyed instead of increased. And, you know, Norway's landscape is just too impressive not to show it clearly.

But what really set a wide grin onto my face for most of Troll Hunter's running time is the feeling of fun that pervades it from minute one, a sense of wonder and joy at telling an especially contrived tall tale to a receptive audience that knows you're putting one on it, and still loves every second of it.



Anarchivist said...

Gah! We've been waiting for this movie, and now it sounds better than we expected! Especially glad to hear the shaky-cam is under control, since I'm one of those sad folks with motion sickness. I need to keep, err, "trolling" eBay until a copy turns up...

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

I think Magnet Releasing has bought the US rights and is planning to put it in a handful of cinemas first; I wouldn't be surprised if it hit some video-on-demand service in autumn, and DVD a bit later on your side of the pond.