The Troll Hunter (Trolljegeren)
Directed by André Øvredal
Screenplay by André Øvredal
Otto Jespersen as Trolljegeren
Hans Morten Hansen as Finn
Tomas Alf Larsen as Kalle
Johanna Mørck as Johanna
Knut Nærum as E-verkssjef
Robert Stoltenberg as Polsk bjørnejeger
Glenn Erland Tosterud as Thomas
How long is The Troll Hunter? 103 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: PG-13 due to some sequences of creature terror.
There but for the Grace of Odin Goes Norwegian Cinema
Ever since Korean director Bong Joon-ho favored us with the poignant, oddly charming monster madness of The Host, I have felt inclined to trust this kind of material when it originates in markets outside the USA. Unfortunately, the director of The Troll Hunter seems to have taken his cues primarily from Cloverfield – all spectacle and camera trickery without the heart or brains to anchor it properly. The idea of hunting mythical trolls with the technological advantages of modern storm chasing and large game management is a clever one. The development and execution of the story, however, fall flat in one sequence after another.
Thomas, Kalle, and Johanna are students roving the breathtaking Norwegian countryside in search of a bold, incisive scoop for their documentary on bear poaching. Instead, they meet up with a gruff, mysterious character named Hans, who is after something else entirely. Sorry to spoil everything for you, but this guy is “The Troll Hunter,” just as the film’s title indicates.
Why, however, is he apparently the only troll hunter in Norway? Hans never says as much, but there are no indications to the contrary. His responsibility is to chase down trolls who have gone rogue, as it were, and left their natural habitats for more populated areas, where their existence by the human race at large is in danger of being discovered. With the slipshod way that the government’s Troll Security Service (yes, really) handles things, it is a wonder that no one has found out before now.
Perhaps public ignorance of trolls in the face of such bungled efforts by local bureaucrats to cover them up is a subtle thread of satire. So subtle, in fact, that its intended target and meaning are too hazy to bear much weight. Ultimately, this movie has nothing to say, except, “Hey! Those computer animated trolls don’t look half bad against the real Scandinavian countryside!” True. What a shame that the first troll chase of the film is by far the coolest, and most of its impressive payoff is in the film’s trailer.
My argument against “mockumentary” format as a device for horror movies is a matter of record. All it ever seems to do is force unrealistic perspectives on the audience and call attention to questionable character motivation. It resists plot development and genuine suspense with its fragmented pace and the constant insistence that we are witnessing something real, and therefore more interesting or important than fiction. That, in fact, is chief among all the wrongheaded notions that induce people to make horror mockumentaries.
Something else that continually cramps the style of this movie is its inconsistent adherence to traditional folklore. From the beginning, the seasoned troll hunter disdainfully remarks that most of the fairy tale conventions about trolls are rubbish. One would presume that this will free the script from hokey ideas that might look silly in a modern context. Nonetheless, one trait which apparently holds true (and so may be harped upon with endless melodramatic gravity) is the troll’s ability to sniff out a Christian by his blood. What a shame that we all camouflaged ourselves with troll secretions only to be sold out by the power of medieval allegory!
Given his earnest treatment of such a campy subject, it seems that the director aims for a deeper level of dark humor than he actually achieves. When the intended tone of a film is unclear halfway through its running time, it is simply not a well-executed film. Troll hunting should be by definition adventurous, spooky, and more than a little silly. One gets the feeling that the cast and crew are trying sincerely for all these effects, but the results add up to surprisingly little. There are a number of more promising paths the director of this film could have taken, any of which would have at least been preferable to the insipid and repetitive story he settled upon. One approach would have been to exploit the horror-comedy angle and push it into Ghostbusters territory. Another we may call the Jurassic Park method, in which the cast finds them stranded without their precious flashbulbs, automobiles, and buckets of troll slime, deep within wooded troll country for large stretches of time. By the way, this movie breaks the rule of the continuously running camera more than any I can recall. The poor photographer must be dragging a dog sled full of batteries for his equipment. Probably the best approach would have been to make a short film instead of a feature, though it seems unlikely that the director could justify the expense to any sensible investor. In any case, the one thing the film needs is lots more trolls. Cleverly masked by grainy night-vision and admittedly crafty combinations of light and shadow, they are suitably bizarre and imposing. A trifle goofy, but all in keeping with traditional renderings. Anything would be better than frequent exposition breaks and endless half-hearted attempts to get to know the characters better before they get stomped, eaten, or possibly worse.
Nobody that did not love movies would try this hard to make a good one. However, potential and execution took widely divergent paths in this case. The script has plenty of problems on its own, but had the director not hobbled his project from square one with the tiresome student documentary conceit, he might have played off all the silly bits with a greater measure of success.
There is nothing wrong with a simple monster film in which a group of ordinary strangers (please, not a student film crew for once!) encounters a mythical menace which they scarcely understand, spends an hour or so in genuinely scary peril, and either destroys it or faces destruction in a sudden and violent manner. Stop showing off how much you have read about trolls and make with the adventure. For a nation with some of the richest folklore and stunning natural atmosphere in the world, Norway has offered up a genuine disappointment in place of what should have been an international B-horror summer smash.