Film review by: Witney Seibold
So what do we really know about trolls? We know that they’re fond of billy goats, that they like to live under bridges, that they can smell the blood of a Christian man, and that sunlight makes them turns to stone. Thanks to Hans, however, the title character in André Øvredal‘s new mockumentary, we know a lot more. We know, for instance, that there are entire tribes of trolls living in the forests of Norway, and that they very occasionally break out of their territory. When that happens, it’s Hans’ job to find them and to kill them. Trolls may be shaped like humans (in this case, 9- to 20-foot tall humans), but they’re possessed of only an animal intelligence. Some of them grow extra heads as they grow. UV rays calcify their bodies and turn them into stone. And they can be lured out of hiding if goats and buckets of Christian blood are used as bait.
The strengths of Øvredal’s “Trollhunter” lie in its deadpan delivery of extraordinary facts. While certain characters react to the existence of trolls with some incredulity, it’s not long before we’re all kind of rolling with it, as Hans, ever so matter-of-factly, explains the nitty-gritty of hunting trolls. He’s no so much a heroic knight, or woodman adventurer, as he is a put-upon working stiff that you might see on a reality show like “Dirty Jobs.” Otto Jespersen, as Hans, hits just the right note, making Hans into a tired old pro who has been living the lifestyle for so long, he’s kind of lost sight of the fact that he’s being exploited.
The film is told through the “found footage” of a team of young Norwegian film students, convinced there’s some kind of odd conspiracy involving a recent spate of bear killings. The bears, for instance, are not from around here, and the gunshots they received shouldn’t have been fatal. Through a few careful days of tailing the man they think to be responsible, they eventually uncover, and then fall in with, Hans and his dirty job of killing trolls. There is a secret government institution in place to make sure the damage done by the trolls looks like mere bears. In one particularly hilarious scene, we see just how little money this institution really has, as they have to outsource their bear-replacement to to a group of semi-competent Pols.
Hans, tired of being exploited by his bosses, has the students film him so he can eventually expose everything to the public. They have to stalk trolls through the woods, lure them with bridges, and, at one point, sneak into a nest of them in a deep mountain cave. They’re safe, so long as they’re covered with troll perfume. But what happens when one of them admits to being a Christian? How about just a believer in God? And what about Muslims?
The trolls are all animated through CGI, which I ordinarily complain about (I’ve always preferred rubber monsters to animated ones), although “Trollhunter” is very good about following the well-worn monster movie adage of not showing the monster too soon, or overexposing the creature too frequently throughout the length of the film. Thanks to CGI technologies, filmmakers can animate whatever monsters they like in whatever quantity they like. In the process, however, they have forgotten that tactfully hiding the monster from the audience can be a powerful filmmaking tool. “Trollhunter” gives us plenty of trolls, but keeps them mercifully obscure for the bulk of the film.
Will trolls begin to take off in movies, and become the next sensation the way zombies and vampires (and to a lesser extent, werewolves) have? Only time will tell.