Written and Directed by: André Øvredal
Starring: Otto Jespersen, Glenn Erland Toster, Johanna Mørck, Tomas Alf Larsen
I saw a trailer for André Øvredal’s TrollHunter and I scoffed at it. I was wrong. This mocumentary about the Norwegian government’s efforts to keep the existence of trolls out of the public eye is brilliantly constructed and clever. Made on a small budget, and born out of a mixture of traditional folklore and horror cinema, this is one accomplished indie.
We are told at the beginning that a couple of hardrives were discovered to contain “283 minutes of footage” which is now being presented in chronological order. The footage reveals that a group of film students decided to make a documentary about a local illegal bear poacher, but when they found him they discovered that he is a government-paid troll hunter who roams the countryside in his battered Land Rover hunting and killing enormous trolls whenever they wander outside their allotted territory. The hunter, Hans (Otto Jespersen) is grouchy, tough middle-aged man who, because he is sick of his low pay lack of benefits, agrees to let the students follow him on his troll hunts in an effort to undermine his government employers.
The mockumentary is an easy way to make a low-budget film more convincing, and to achieve easy shocks through sharp, rapid camera movements. In a case like TrollHunter it can also easily reveal the cheapness of the whole thing, but Øvredal and his production crew are clever and utilize their format to great advantage. Convincing performances all around help set the tone, but if the trolls themselves were poorly rendered the film would have felt cheap and silly. Instead, the trolls are beautiful. They are enormous, knobnosed beasts who appear to be made of clay as much as digitally produced and their appearance feels old and born of deep traditions.
As far as source material, TrollHunter has less in common with monster movies than it does with the long history of trolls in Northern European cultures. Many different types of trolls appear throughout the film, from “small” Tusseladd trolls to a massive mountainsized Jotnar, and each one is wildly different in appearance and behaviour, giving the film a feeling of legitimate unpredictability and danger. Other details, including the vulnerability of trolls to bright lights, and their ability to grow false heads from wounds makes it feel as though this tale was plucked directly from folklore. Running through the film is Hans’ warning that any Christians should stay away, because trolls can smell their faith and it will make situations that much more dangerous, which I believe to come from the very core of troll lore.
TrollHunter is as well made a low budget mockumentary as could ever be expected, and it is playful in the B-movie model. It is refreshing to see such a film move compellingly within cultural history and tradition without ever dipping into easy shocks and cheap horror. Encounters with each new type of troll are exciting and curious, and watching Hans approach each type in his seasoned and unique way prevents the film from getting bogged down in samey action. Comedic threads revolving around the naivety of the students, as well as the absurdity of Hans’ employers keep the film from becoming unnecessarily heavy but also without springing into silliness. TrollHunter never succumbs to gratuitous campiness, and its attachment to folklore and tradition gives the whole film an incredible legitimacy.