When film-maker Andre Ovredal wrote the screenplay for The Troll Hunter he based it on a single comment from Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg about the true existence of Trolls and how pylons were actually fences to keep them in trapped. It’s a wonderful little moment that none of the gathered press at the conference picked up on and when taken out of context creates enough of a conceit to carry an entire film. Shot in a found footage style, with a cast of low-profile or unknown actors, The Troll Hunter takes the premise of the real existence of trolls and gives it a dark comic fantasy edge.
The plot follows a trio of young filmmakers who are investigating bear hunting in Norway when they find a hunter named Hans (Otto Jespersen) who does not appear to have any official documentation. Hans, it turns out is a special Government-hired hunter whose job it is to keep Trolls in their natural habitats and out of the public consciousness. Tired of being an unknown hero, Hans invites the film-makers to document him so that the world might one day find the truth.
Found footage horror films have been become more and more frequent in recent years. Ever since The Blair Witch Project blew the doors to the mainstream wide open, independent film-makers have been producing these films at an increasing rate. Desperately trying to create a sense of realism that helps frame the narrative they’re telling, these film-makers enjoy the strange creative freedom that the genre affords them. It is, however, no longer the exclusive reserve of the low budget film-maker, with examples like Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity 3, which cost large sums of money in a desperate attempt to create the slightly crackly, home video feel that so encapsulates the genre.
While The Troll Hunter is darkly comic, showing subversions of classic troll myths it is all told with a serious, reality-based approach. The various tropes and idioms relating to these mythological creatures are given scientific McGuffins to explain why, for instance, trolls calcify or explode when subjected to sunlight. It’s a nice touch that helps to blur the lines between fantasy and reality, which itself is the greatest strength of the genre. The only one that misses an explaination is a Troll’s ability to smell Christian blood, but this leads to a neat joke “You’re not Christian are you?” about the crew hiring a Muslim camera operator.
Otto Jespersen gives an understated and superb performance as the beaten-down, world-weary, ex-naval troll hunter of the title. It’s a potentially star-making turn from the sometimes controversial comedian-turned-actor. There are undertones of Government corruption and secrecy that are all the more relevant in this age of a restriction of freedoms. But these are small undercurrents to the huge wave of fun and enjoyment that sweeps across The Troll Hunter. It would be easy to read into the various machinations of characters, but in reality this would get in the way of the fun.
The budget for The Troll Hunter was roughly $3.5m, which in Hollywood terms is small, but in the ‘found footage’ genre places it somewhere in the middle. Clearly the majority of the money was spent on creating the various types of trolls on display, and with the help of a hand-held camera these look quite impressive. The first big reveal is nicely handled and implying that there is a variety of trolls engages the audiences hunger to see different types, which carries the film through some of its less interesting moments.
Unfortunately one of the downsides to The Troll Hunter is it feels a little too stretched. There’s some beautiful scenery on display (keen-eyed paper industry professionals will spot the aftermath of forestry areas blamed casually on the giant species of trolls), but Ovredal sometimes gets a little too self-indulgent and the tracking shots from the van get repetitive and tiresome. This is a small gripe, but one that does drag throughout. Luckily this doesn’t last too long and you’re right back with the film-makers watching with awe, excitement and a wry smile on your face as the trolls burp, fart, smash and scream their way through Norway.