In common fairytale parlance trolls are relatively unthreatening types, morose and ugly outcasts who wear human clothes and dwell below bridges. Norwegian filmmaker André Øvredal’s Trollhunter, a cross between The Blair Witch Project and a FX-adventure serial, reconsiders the archetype.
The trolls tracked down by Hans (Otto Jespersen), a top member of the secretive Troll Security Service, are gargantuan, destructive beasts and a vital threat to the Norwegian ecosystem. The faux documentary, “shot” by a trio of teens who stumble upon Hans and see him as their ticket to fame, is a matter-of-fact chronicle of Hans’ nighttime tracking. Through ominous forests, across bleak frozen landscapes, the protagonist single-mindedly hunts his animalistic prey as the crewmembers question exactly what they’ve gotten into.
The ridiculous premise seems to demand a measure of satire that Øvredal largely avoids. The writer-director instead makes the smart decision to play things on the level, with Hans’ one-dimensional focus on the task at hand proving an engaging contrast with the genuine confusion and terror of his naïve compatriots. Appropriate attention is paid to the mechanics of troll hunting and the government conspiracy shielding it from the public. Hans’ backstory gets some attention, both in the brief snippets of details he shares and in small, secretive visual cues.
The documentary format facilitates the streamlined approach, as there’s no time for grand digressions into the history of Norwegian troll hunting and no need to introduce superfluous characters. The rough handheld camerawork, shrieks and gasps of genuine terror and general sense of disorientation enhance the picture’s streamlined existential appeal.
The hunting scenes are given an artful, jarring edge, as the roaring trolls reverse course and pound their ways toward their trackers. A night vision sequence set inside a troll lair is a masterpiece of grim, grotesque suspense. The trolls have been rendered with impressive visual detail. You can clearly see every hideous boil, epidermal protrusion and hideous hairy clump. Dead-eyed, the trolls move with a sort of menacing, banal stumble that adds to their creepiness.
Still, Trollhunter isn’t the riveting thriller or the future midnight movie sensation implied by its fest circuit reception. It’s not consistently suspenseful enough to be the former or outrageous enough to be the latter. The psychological ramifications of the troll hunting experience are left unexplored and the humans not named Hans congeal in a sort of faceless, nameless mass.
But it’s fun comic horror with a classic tough-guy protagonist and just the right amount of frigid, Norwegian atmosphere.
A final plea: See the real version. Don’t wait for Chris Columbus (who’s reportedly planning a remake) to massacre it.
The Upside: It’s a suspenseful, existential film about hunting trolls. You’ve never seen that before.
The Downside: Underdeveloped characters, other than Hans of course, and insufficient psychological drama.
On the Side: Once again: Please, please don’t wait for the Chris Columbus remake.