There are movies, there are documentaries, and then there are both: films that try their hardest to come off as “genuine,” while obviously made for mass consumption and entertainment. And I’m fairly certain everyone has seen at least one: The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, Quarantine- the list goes on. These films aim to appeal to moviegoers who are tired with huge-budget blockbusters, or who are looking for a dose of “realism” in their experience.
Norwegian humor- Knock Knock. Who's there? Vikings. Vikings who? Open up and give us your women. NOW.
Yesterday, I sat down to watch one of these cinema verite pieces: the Norwegian fantasy-comedy (yes, I said comedy) “Trolljegeren,” also known as “Troll Hunter” on this side of the Atlantic. Let me start with a clarification: this film is a comedy in the Scandinavian sense of the word. Don’t go expecting laughs. If you don’t get the dark, often sarcastic style of humor that Norwegians have, you won’t understand any of the “jokes.” But this is fine, as Norwegian humor goes unnoticed by most non-Norwegians (myself included), and those same “jokes” work as standard dialogue. Got that out of the way? Good.
Troll Hunter is the story of a group of Norwegian film students who follow around a man named Hans, who we discover over the course of the story is the only “Trolljegeren” in Norway. His job is simple: find trolls that have escaped from their designated territory, and kill them. The story opens on a group of bear hunters who have been called in due to a recent number of attacks on farm animals and tourists, who point out that Hans is not one of the licensed bear hunters in Norway, and is therefore a poacher of some kind. The students- Thomas, Johanna and Kalle (who is a male)- chase down the gruff Hans and pepper him with requests for interviews, ultimately running afoul of his work one night in a dark forest. Thomas is bitten by one of the trolls- a Ringlefinch, if anybody is interested- and they find their car destroyed. Only then, after running through the woods and getting slime thrown at them, does Hans allow the three to follow him and document on his work.
The remainder of the film is dedicated to interviews with Hans, where he explains about the different troll groups in Norway, laments about paperwork and bureaucracy, and recants them stories of his many years on the hunt. And, of course, the hunts themselves. Over the hour-and-forty minute duration, there are plenty of shots of a beautiful Norwegian countryside, complete with mountains, tundra and forests, and mad dashes through the woods as the motley bunch encounter the trolls themselves.
Three heads, no brains
Despite being filmed as a “cam flick,” as Cloverfield was back in 2008, the filming is near seamless, sharp and without a hint of blemish at any point (also of note: Paranormal Activity isn’t this clean, and those movies used HD, mounted cameras). It also has impeccable sound editing, which anyone who saw The Blair Witch Project would probably think is a bit too clean for a student film. Also, unlike its predecessors in the “mockumentary” set, it also contains plenty of CG effects.
The trolls themselves, despite being somewhat silly looking at first glance, are actually some of the best computer visuals I’ve seen in a while, especially for a film that aims to be “low-budget.” Drawing again on the Cloverfield comparisons (since this movie has more in common with the JJ Abrams blockbuster than the $35,000 witch story), Troll Hunter is actually better shot and more aesthetically pleasing than Cloverfield, and features far less annoying characters. And better monsters for sure. From giant, hulking humanoids with three heads, to beings that resemble living stone, to the last, gigantic monstrosity, the trolls come off as realistic and even scary at times. And, possibly most important, believable. Whereas the Parasite was a mix of alien features (and size inconsistencies), the trolls actually do look like they are natural, living players in the film, something that actually makes them endearing by the end.
One of the writers must have been late for a raid on their TROLL HUNTER
But eye-candy only goes so far. Troll Hunter starts very strong, and slowly loses steam. As Hans gradually relates his apathetic views and moments of “monster activism,” the story starts to go from creepy to [unintentionally] funny. The mythology behind the troll’s behavior (and their apparent dislike of Christians) often feels uneven and at times hokey (though I give it points for at least trying to ground the film in actual folklore). And the plot has more than its fair share of holes. Like how the students get to keep filming, long after Hans’ supervisor finds out and admonishes them. Or how the trolls all begin to show symptoms of a strange condition, but no explanation is given as to why or how. And of course the bears being used as scapegoats despite the almost unprecedented levels of damage. By the last half hour, the film sort of coasts along, content to show more and more of the lovely Norway countryside, while forgetting about building any kind of real tension or suspense. And the ending…well, I still don’t really understand it, and am doubly baffled when I look at both the opening and closing “crawls.” Despite being set up, and billed, as a monster movie, it goes out on an unsatisfying note.
Troll Hunter was released in Norway in 2010, and in the US this past July, but it flew under the radar here for the most part. Story aside, the film is hardly a bad movie, and worth watching if only for the scenery and effects, which are the most realistic I’ve ever seen in a cinema verite style film. Otto Jespersen, already a famous comedic actor in Norway, does a fantastic turn as the dour, jaded Hans, and is easily the best part of the “real” film. And despite going out with a gasp, there are moments in the middle where the tension is real and the setup works wonderfully. At it’s worst, Troll Hunter is a worthy diversion from the usual crop of “cam flicks.” At it’s best, it’s a creepy, original mockumentary that will stick with you. But that’s up to the individual viewer to decide.
Troll Hunter is currently available on DVD.