Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Troll Hunter

The Troll Hunter (2010)
Dir Andre Ovredal (except with that slash through the "O")
Starring Otto Jespersen, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Hans Morten Hansen.

One of the films I often find myself telling people they absolutely need to see is INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS, the weird deadpan (comedy?) horror mockumentary about Werner Herzog and the guy who wrote X-MEN 2: X-MEN UNITED getting menaced by a hump and a shaky camera. Conversationally, and to divert attention from the fact that they have no intention at all of doing so, they’ll usually respond, “Oh yeah, is that good?” and I have to pause and say I honestly don’t know, but it’s definitely something.

TROLL HUNTER is almost a sequel to that one, at least in tone. It’s a completely deadpan found-footage kind of deal which is hilarious without being especially funny and oddly compelling without exactly being interesting. It concerns a couple of Norwegian college kid film students who end up making an impromptu documentary about Hans, a troll hunter hired by the Norwegian government to keep the troll population under control and keep the whole thing under wraps from the public. Hans is a pretty great character, grizzled and badass but with a certain world-weariness to him and an endearing dusting of grumpy old man dorkiness (he’s the kind of guy who can face down a thirty-foot-tall troll but also eat breakfast at a diner wearing that sweater that your grandma sent you when you were a kid). The leader of the college kids (played with a winning gleeful enthusiasm by Glenn Tosterud) can hardly believe their luck at stumbling onto this story. He points out the likely monetary rewards of the footage he’s collecting and also cites the people’s right to know about trolls, but his expression says that he’s in it because this is just so fucking cool. He can't help but sneak looks back at the camera with a great Can you believe this? look on his face, and his interest is infectious.

Which is good, because most of the film is details about trolls, their life habits, the politics of troll hunting, and the daily tricks of a troll hunter’s trade. Hans insists trolls are non-magical mammalian predators no different –and maybe even a little less intelligent—than bears, and scoffs at the notion that they’re anything like their portrayal in fairy tales even as he enumerates some rather curious aspects of troll biology (for instance, they eat rocks, grow as big as mountains, live under bridges, and can smell the blood of Christians). “Do they all have three heads?” Thomas asks? “Not all of them.” Hans assures him. Actually they’re not real heads at all, Hans explains, they’re protrusions which grow as the troll ages to intimidate other males and –with the slightest shadow of a smile—to impress females. The particulars of trolls' behavioral quirks lead to some inspired weirdo comedy moments which I won't spoil.

Still looks better in night vision than Paris Hilton.
The charm of the film is mostly in the dryly absurd details presented nonchalantly with a hint of professional pride by Otto Jespersen’s Hans. It’s too cheekily ridiculous to honestly believe it’s meant to be taken seriously as a horror film, but it actually does manage to at least create some effectively fun suspense scenes. The mockumentary style forces the viewer to stay trapped in a single perspective (they have only one camera) which actually manages to heighten the tension by not offering the customary perspective escape. Yes, there’s a lot of shaky camera, but the film is thankfully more interested in showing you what’s going on than convincing you of its authenticity. The mockumentary format is not strictly necessary to tell this story (especially since its completely unconvincing) and may irritate folks who are getting tired of this gimmick, but to me works for the film by making things seem all the more commonplace and grounded in reality, which just emphasizes the absurdity. The Trolls look completely ridiculous (in the best possible way), but the effects are good enough that they seem believable most of the time, and the found-footage angle probably does a little to heighten this effect, which is key to the film’s humor.

Anyway, by no means a masterpiece, but an enjoyable romp with a cheerful playfulness and an odd kind of inexplicable charm. As you might imagine, Chris Columbus’ production company immediately recognized that this is a pleasant experience because of its unique cadence, low-key leads and commitment to being unexpected, defiantly indefinable pulp and immediately bought the rights to remake it as a big-budget Hollywood monster epic. There seems like there should be a joke to be made here, because of course Columbus directed the tepid first HARRY POTTER film, which did in fact feature a troll, and also there’s that movie TROLL (now sadly best known as being the one which isn’t TROLL 2) which features a character named Harry Potter (two, actually). So there’s a troll and Potter connection and now this one, obviously that means something but I can’t quite figure out what. Maybe Columbus is planning to adapt this one into some kind of TROLL / HARRY POTTER crossover thing, I think I’d pay to see that (maybe even in 3-D) as long as they keep that awesome TROLL Song (maybe they can get John Williams to do a version of it?)

I’ll keep you informed as this story progresses.     


  1. I am way tickled by the concept of some Norwegian dude fighting giant trolls, but the mockumentary format has scared me off and I can't bring myself to see this one. I've just been burned by these stupid movies one too many times. I keep hearing that, no, this new fake documentary is actually a good one, and time after time (DISTRICT 9, CLOVERFIELD, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, THE LAST EXORCISM) I get burned. It pains me that you like this, not because I think it reflects poorly on your tastes (it doesn't) but because now I feel more tempted to see it, and I'm likely just going to end up disappointed again.

    It's not so much that the gimmick is played out; whatever, there are plenty of cliched movies that managed to squeeze something new out of their tired premises. It's just that I think this style invites a lot of lazy, lousy filmmaking. The filmmakers get so caught up in trying to cleverly stage everything so it seems off the cuff that they forget to like, you know, follow the basic tenets of visual storytelling. Or stage things in an artistic way. Or create any atmosphere beyond trying to look like an episode of COPS.

    And then for some reason I get really annoyed when the films violate their own format. You would think since I don't like the style I wouldn't care, but it really bugs when, say, there's only supposed to be one camera filming but then the movie cuts to different camera angles (looking at you, LAST EXORCISM).

    One of the reasons that I actually like REC (and it's American carbon copy QUARANTINE) I think is because in it's lighting, staging, atmosphere, etc, it's more reminiscent of a regular horror movie and makes little effort past the opening scenes to feel off the cuff and whatnot. Plus I guess there's something about the limited perspective that fits with the films' confined location, whereas a lot of these other ones go for a much more incongruous epic feel.

    Anyways, another great post, you bastard. I've gotten extremely lazy recently and haven't touched my blog, so it's depressing to see you not only churning out well written, well reasoned, entertaining film commentary that's consistently far superior to anything I wrote on my blog... but you're doing it so damn frequently, at a rate I could never touch. How do you do it, sir? I tip my hat to you, you son of a bitch.

  2. Well, I know you're more sensetive to ugly filmmaking than I am, and these mockumentary ones are just never gonna be pretty. This one doesn't take itself as seriously as those others, and so it's a little easier to get past the fact that you in no way believe this is real. The focus is usually on the scenes themselves, not the gimmick, so you get a little more lost in the build of a particular scene and less in trying to figure out a)what's going on and b) why they did that.

    It may annoy you that there are some potentially classic monster scenes in this one which are made less impressive by the chintzy photography. But then again, a big part of the joke is that Hans is a workaday kind of guy. The huge troll you see in the poster is an unusual day for him, but just another part of his job, and by contrasting the epicness of troll hunting with the confines of a fixed perspective, I think it creates something of a funny juxtaposition. Part of the joy of it, also, is the fact that rather than being participants here, our filmmakers are filming someone else's story and learning as they go, so that may also make the mockumenatary format make more sense for it.

    I dunno, I liked this one substantially better than most of the other found-footage ones (although the reviews are all correct in saying its about 20 minutes too long, all composed of pure fat that should have been saved for the DVD) but mostly its because this film isn't as damn serious as those other ones and I think earns some good graces that way. It's unique enough that even if it annoys you somewhat I think you'll be glad to have seen it.

    I've been killing time waiting for you to post more by reading all of Mr. M's old reviews (that fucker is golden, at least as funny as Vern if a little less thought-provoking) but I've finished em all now and so now the burden is back on you. You've been seduced away from the world of long-form essays by that tart twitter, which I fear and don't understand.

  3. I worked on a short post about RUBBER, a real odd ball of a movie you might appreciate, but I wanted to get a few screen grabs and do a final edit on it and I've just been dragging my feet. Should be up soon.

    I was going to do a TREE OF LIFE post, but I saw it over my vacation when I was too lazy to write anything, and now the movie isn't fresh enough in my mind to write about. I'm thinking of maybe seeing it again sometime, so then I think I will force myself to post about it.

    Also, Neil Young has had a couple of releases since I finished that big project last year, I'm kinda planning on buckling down and given them writeups as well.