Review: Trollhunter (2010)

In Trollhunter, a Norwegian mockumentary by writer-director  André Øvreda, three college students, Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Morck), and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen) the camera man we barely ever see, decide to make a documentary about a reclusive man, Hans (Otto Jespersen), whom they believe to be a bear poacher. He lives in a dilapidated trailer that reeks of God knows what and has bushels of thymine and strange furs hanging all over it. The truck he drives looks like some has attacked it with an axe, repeatedly. Much to his displeasure, they shadow him, until why night he drives into the forest, gets out of the car and disappears into the woods. Excited, the three filmmakers follow him but they don’t have to wait long for Hans to come running back screaming “Troll!”

That is when the characters realize what the audience has known all along: Hans is a troll hunter.  He works for a governmental institution Troll Security Service (TSS) that is dedicated to conceal the trolls from the rest of the population and kill those who wander off the territory designated to them. But his pay is miserable and the work hours are a real horror, not to mention the occupational hazards, so he decides to let the trio film everything that happens as a way of getting back at his employer.

What ensues is a curious mix of found footage, conspiracy thriller and fantasy. Øvreda shows good understanding of the genre and uses it less to scare the audience but more to remind us what the term “mockumentary” actually means. The film is more than just nausea inducing pictures of characters running through dark woods, shrieking (although to be fair, these aren’t entirely absent). Of all the found footage horror films we’ve been treated to since the phenomenal success of Blair Witch Project (1998), Trollhunter is the most engaging which mostly due to two reasons.

The first one, is the character of troll hunter. He isn’t a hero, a redneck, nor is he someone who enjoys what he does. More than anything, he is tired of his job. Scruffy, grim and anything but talkative, he is an intimidating figure who is arresting to watch, which is why one never questions the film students’ motivation for spying on him: this is one of the rare cases where it’s the sane thing to do.  And, even more importantly, when he goes out to fight a 10 meter tall troll, we buy it.

The second reason are the trolls themselves. Trollhunter succeeds in something many other films have tried to do but failed (most recently: Super 8): it makes them both interesting and believable.  We learn that there are many kinds of trolls but they are all ugly and aggressive and, if we were to believe the human characters, they stink abominably. But they are never just the evil creatures who are out to get you (unless you are Christian, then you’d better run); more than anything they would like to be left alone. They eat stones, but prefer old tires and won’t pass on a sheep or other livestock. They nest under bridges or in caves and they can get rabies. But at the same time the film doesn’t make them mundane as the trolls’ nature is deeply rooted in Norwegian folklore.  Sunlight turns them to stone and they may or may not grow additional heads.

Indeed, the trolls are fascinating.  As the perplexed film crew watched a 5 meter tall creature walk out of the woods for the first time, I felt excitement and simultaneously wondered whether the troll relied more on its eyesight, hearing or sense of smell for tracking down its prey.  How often does one find themselves wanting to find out more about the monsters we are supposed to simply fear? These trolls aren’t just evil beasts out to get you, which is why they aren’t particularly scary; more than anything one ends up pitying them.

Trollhunter is a rare mockumentary that plays like a “real movie”, because no matter how persistently it insists on being a rough cut of the 200 hour long found footage, it doesn’t make the easy mistake of relying on this gimmick alone. Instead it approaches its subjects with care and makes them feel very real, meaning that Trollhunter is one of the few movies to live up to their tagline: “You’ll believe it when you see it”. It is original and dryly funny; all in all, one of the best movies the genre has produced.

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