Its existence has been known in the UK for just under a year now and with an imminent, albeit it, limited release, we can finally bear witness to one of the most intriguing films currently out there.
Cinema has seen its fair share of ‘found-footage’ movies over the years, stemming from the iconic, micro-budgeted, The Blair Witch Project way back in ’99. Its massive success inevitably spawned a host of imitators, with successes that include [REC] and Paranormal Activity (along with their respective sequels), which prove the genre still has potential.
Troll Hunter takes this premise, yet adds to it. Norwegian writer/director, André Øvredal adds a much needed tongue-in-cheek, surreal edge. The film opens with an obligatory paragraph informing audiences of the ‘recovered footage and edited together’ spiel that could even be perceived as an ironic pop at itself. In fact, the film frequently gels moments of sweat induced tension with laugh-out-loud hilarity, ranging from the dangers of being trapped in a troll-inhabited cave, to a hilarious-looking anti-troll suit, to grotesque, close-quarters troll flatulence; where you hail from may dictate how you read the film.
The way audiences will engage with it is open to debate. The promotion in its native country was clever. Teaser material at the forefront of the movie’s promotional campaign denied viewers even a glimpse of a troll until the eve of its release. Indeed, it might feel like a completely serious film to a Norwegian audience due to its inherent the Scandinavian folklore embedded within. To others, notably the UK, the event feels like a well balanced parody bubbling beneath a fundamentally earnest exploration of fairy tale cum reality. Whatever the intentions of the film makers, Troll Hunter succeeds tremendously as a deadpan affair that appears to subtly mock itself.
As far as the story is concerned, it won’t initially surprise. It’s obvious a trio of investigative students- Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Mørc) and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen) –aren’t tailing an illegal bear hunter as suspected. In fact, the mysterious target, Hans (Otto Jespersen), is a covert troll enforcer, who keeps the beasties in order and within their respective territories. Dotted throughout are contributions from other characters, including a shifty wildlife trustee, as well as some comedically enthralling, linguistically challenged associates, as the plot unfolds and allows Hans to reveal more about the secret world of troll hunting.
Troll Hunter is different to the likes of Blair Witch in the sense that, contrary to its genre, it doesn’t set out to terrify you; early on we witness one of the monsters in all its glory, subsequently seeing a handful of others, which are un-obscured and in full shot. It is this overt approach that alters the dynamic from scares to adventure, as ambiguity is substituted for full on troll exposure.
The CGI depicts the creatures in a satisfying way too, as appearances differ depending on breed (mountain or woodland) and whilst they aren’t about to fool anyone, they do a surprisingly effective job of fitting in superbly both contextually and tonally. And to the film’s credit, they’re aesthetically pleasing considering the budget- their presence evokes a different sort of tension from other aforementioned comparisons.
The acting is adequate and is accentuated with some amusingly set up scenes as the characters walk a fine line of dramatic and tongue-in-cheek. At times they play up to the camera, engage in banter and act in a self -aware way, which adds to the audience’s scepticism over the film’s intention.
One of the elements that gives the film belonging is the real world setting with breathtaking landscapes and cinematography; from the snowy wilderness, to the dense woodland, it all looks wonderful and exudes an exciting atmosphere of a mythical species existing.
Troll Hunter is a hugely entertaining film that avoids falling into the generic pitfall. It provides escapism, excitement and a massive sense of adventure, as we follow the students following the expert in tracking and ultimately antagonising the mythical beings. The film treads a pensive line and whether it’s acknowledged as a parody or not, it does a great job of making us ask the question, which is half the fun. Troll Hunter is a film that invites us on a journey to transcend fact and fiction and embrace a fairy tale culture that takes you on a thrilling, as well as exhilarating hunt.