12/2/11

Troll Hunter (2010): Not Just For Dispatching Internet Nuisances Anymore

While today's film doesn't have any connection to the impending Christmas holidays, some of the chilly action does take place in the snowy climes of Norway and, like Santa, it does concern the stuff of fairy tales. If I just spoiled the whole "Santa isn't real" thing for you my apologies, but I think I can make it up for you by wrapping this review in bright paper and bows. It certainly deserves it because it is quite a gift. For fantasy and science fiction fans and horror buffs alike, Troll Hunter (a.k.a Trolljegeren) is one of the best examples of how to use the found footage formula since Cannibal Holocaust pioneered the style. As the film invites you into its world, it delicately balances the actual and the fantastical through the lens of a very real camera, and it ends up being something, well, for lack of a better term, magical.

Thomas, Kalle, and Johanna (Glenn Erland Tosterud, Tomas Alf Larsen, Johanna Morck) are a team of documentary film makers who think they have a lead on a string of mysterious bear killings. They track down Hans (Otto Jespersen), a hunter they believe is poaching the bears, but they soon learn that Hans has a more mysterious secret. He's a troll hunter dispatched by the Norwegian government to control rampaging trolls responsible for killing cattle and tourists, destroying property, and cause earthquakes. Agreeing to let the film crew follow him as long as they follow his every direction (and as long as they aren't believers in God and Jesus. Trolls can smell that kind of thing), they journey across the Norway to hunt down the trolls. As they get deeper into the country, Hans begins to believe something is happening to the trolls, and whatever it is will endanger them all.

Found footage is one of those tricky genres that sometimes works (Paranormal Activity) and sometimes doesn't (Diary of the Dead). When it's done right, the style can immerse the viewer in the world and add an extra layer of believability to some rather otherworldly goings-on. Director Andre Ovredal, whose only previous credit is 2000's poorly received Future Murder, hits the perfect pitch in Troll Hunter. As an audience, I found myself swept up in the proceedings just as the "documentary crew" is swept into Hans' world. The CG creatures are expertly inserted, and Ovredal uses their appearances to create tension, to astound the viewer, and to provide both laughs and scares. Not only is the Norwegian countryside beautifully filmed (making it the 'N' country I want to visit most after seeing New Zealand's giant bug); the trolls look like natural residents. The fact that the film works in Scandinavian folklore such as Three Billy Goats Gruff only serve to enhance the cultural ties and add a layer of winking realism.

As far as the monsters can take the film, it would fall apart like a troll exposed to sunlight if not for a couple of strong performances. Otto Jespersen is the real revelation here. The Norwegian comedian is perfectly cast, and he reminded me a great deal of a heartier Christopher Lee. Jerpersen delivers his lines with a flat matter-of-fact delivery that lends itself to dry comedy as well as deadly seriousness. Of the documentarians, only Glenn Erland Tosterud as leader Thomas makes an impression as his is the only one of them with a dynamic character. Tomas Alf Larsen and Johanna Morck do fine jobs, but neither of their characters stand out. I must also mention Urmila Berg-Domaas as the second camera operator Malica. She's barely in the film so I can't really comment on her performance, but her character leads to the only sticking point in the film.

When she is introduced she's asked if she was a Christian and believed in God and Jesus, and she replies that she is a Muslim. The Troll Hunter shrugs it off saying he doesn't know what might happen. Part of the tenets of Islam is the belief in Jesus as a messenger of God and certainly Muslims believe in an all powerful god, Allah. It is unclear why this inconsistency was included or if it was meant to refer to cultural differences between Norwegians and Muslims, Norway's fastest growing minority group. Nothing else ever comes of the character being Muslim, but I feel like that dialog was intentionally placed but it's unclear what writer/director Ovredal was trying to say. Of course,Troll Hunter also seems to be stridently anti-Christian as well. The one Christian character ends up getting dispatched messily and Hans lures in the trolls with Gospel music and the spuriously obtained blood of a Christian man. Clearly Ovredal is no big fan of organized religion, but he also revels in the legends and lore of Norway's early years. All I know is that, as an Atheist, if trolls invade, I'm going to church. Not to get religion, but to appear as a lesser snack.

The fact that the film's message remains a bit hazy is actually fine. Troll Hunter works best as a fantasy romp, and getting bogged down in possible cultural minutia only diminishes the amount of fun this film is. It's definitely a film I will go back to time and time again, and it's one that I can't wait to share with friends. Troll Hunter is one of my favorite films I've seen in some time. It's on Netflix Instant Watch right now. So take the time to make it one of yours.

Bugg Rating

1 comment:

  1. I was pretty underwhelmed by this movie. Nice CGI for a low budget flick, but I really didn't find it very interesting(or funny, which some people are raving)...

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