TrollHunter (Magnet Releasing, NR)

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I won't spoil it for you but I will say this: if you're too quick to judge you will miss all the fun.

 

 

For the first half hour or so TrollHunter seems to be a Norwegian version of The Blair Witch Project, one that has come too late to the party to make much impact in the increasingly tired category of fake documentary horror movies. The setup is that the film we're watching is based on found footage shot by a wannabe college film crew tracking a bearded fellow whom they initially believe to be a bear poacher, only to find out later that he was after much bigger game. They shoot a lot of shaky footage, discover the night vision setting on their camera, and when the beastie finally appears he's more silly than scary.

And yet there's a self-mocking, genre-aware quality in TrollHunter that hints that there may be more to this film than is immediately obvious. Writer/director Andre Ovredahl is not making a standard faux-documentary so much as he is using the form as a vehicle in order to create something far more interesting. I won't spoil it for you but I will say this: if you're too quick to judge you will miss all the fun, whereas if you're willing to be patient and go where Ovredahl wants to take you, ultimately it will be more than worth your while.

It turns out that troll hunting is a civil service job with all the hassles that entails—including low pay (and no bonus for working the night shift!), lack of appreciation, and a boss who just doesn't get it. Hans (Otto Jespersen), the troll hunter who is the focus of the film within a film, works for an agency whose duties lie midway between the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Improper Use of Magic Office. It oversees the joint duties of limiting the damage from trolls and convincing the public that they don't exist outside of storybooks.

TrollHunter has its scary moments, particularly toward the end of the film, but it's also hilarious in a dry, Scandinavian sort of way. The film crew is both callow and ambitious and when they start to lose enthusiasm for the project the blonde anchorman (Glenn Eland Tosterud) exhorts them with these immortal words: "Did Michael Moore give up on the first try?" Later, when they are lurching through the woods in Hans' specially-equipped SUV, one of the crew asks if he's sitting on a land mine and receives the matter-of-fact response "Yes, but it isn't armed."

The three primary adult roles are played by comedians who are well-known in Norway: Jespersen, Robert Stoltenberg (who plays the Polish operator of a bear-delivery service—really!) and Hans Morten Hansen who plays Finn, Hans' humorless boss. The young actors playing the film crew (Tosterud, Johanna Morck, and Tomas Alf Larsen, later augmented by Umila Berg-Domaas) are less famous but each achieves a strong characterization stereotypical enough to be humorous yet also real enough to be believable.

You'll learn a lot of troll lore from this movie—they can smell the blood of Christians, they like to chew on old tires, they explode or turn to stone when exposed to sunlight because they can't process the rays into Vitamin D the way humans do—and it's all delivered as if it were the gospel truth. No mugging at the camera or cues to laugh, in other words. Ovredahl and the cast trust you to figure it out for yourself.

The trolls deserve their own round of applause. Based on the drawings of Theodor Kittelsen (a 19th-century Norwegian artist), they are closer to wild animals than the humanoid trolls of fairy tales but have disturbingly human features as well. For instance the three heads of the Tosserlad troll were designed using as references the faces of real, deformed human beings. Their movements were designed by combining the movements of actual animals with characteristics of classic movie monsters, and the end result is sometimes humorous, sometimes scary, depending on the tone needed at a particular moment. | Sarah Boslaugh

 

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