On Friday I went to the showing of the Norwegian monster movie TrollHunter (Trolljegeren, 2010), as part of the Galway Film Fleadh. It’s written by André Øvredal and Håvard S. Johansen, and directed by Øvredal.
This film follows a well-worn path of supposedly being the raw footage from a documentary that three college students were shooting – all of this is explained up front in stark lettering before the film starts. I must confess to releasing a sigh upon reading this, as this is a particular trope of horror films that can grate upon my nerves. However, TrollHunter is a fine of example of how you can pull off this type of mockumentary successfully.
The three students are reporter Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), sound recorder Johanna (Johanna Mørck) and cameraman Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen). They’re investigating the death of a bear in an area that the legitimate bear hunters insist is the work of a poacher. The trio hear rumours about a man called Hans (Otto Jespersen), who lives in a caravan and only goes out at night, who they suspect is the poacher. They follow him further into remote areas until they discover Hans is no poacher, he’s Norway’s only Troll Hunter, employed by the TSS (Troll Security Services).
After they get an up-front introduction to the reality of Trolls, Hans invites them to accompany him. It turns out he’s a rather discontented government employee (no hazardous pay, no pension) and is fed up with how he’s being treated. Along the way the students get an introduction into the various types of trolls and their behaviour, and this information is meted out over a period of time so there are no long periods of exposition. He’s attempting to discover why the trolls are acting in an unusual manner and moving off their territories into occupied areas.
Particular attention has been paid to the sounds the trolls make, which are truly disconcerting and, later on, very loud. The audience hears them long before we’re ever given a glimpse of them, and this is a case where CGI is used sparingly but to great effect. As the film goes on the trolls increase in size until they are gigantic, and there is definitely a sense of awe when their full size is revealed.
The fact that the film is supposed made of unedited footage is used to its best effect: there is no superfluous material. Often it cuts away from a set-up straight into the action, which lends the story a punchy pace at times. Equally, it ignores the concept that there should be some back story about the students and their interactions: the film is totally focused on the pursuit of the Troll Hunter and then on the pursuit of the Trolls. This is a successful tactic because Hans is such an interesting character and is well acted.
Troll hunting is a bureaucratic job – no matter how exciting – and it involves filling out forms and making reports. A lot of the film’s humour runs on the juxtaposition between the mundane and the fantastical.
There’s also the disparity between the information given in fairy stories about trolls compared to the ‘reality’ of the trolls’ true nature. Plus, despite the havoc the trolls wreck when they go outside their territory Hans has a great deal of sympathy for these forces of nature, and is haunted by certain aspects of his work. It’s also one of the few films where being a Christian is definitely a negative in terms of survival.
Overall this is a fun, entertaining monster movie. The ending suffers from a certain abruptness and finality that is a result of its very concept, which leaves the viewer with a vague unsatisfied feeling – although there is one tiny ‘news clip’ at the end that takes the edge off.