M-SPIFF 2011 Review: The Troll Hunter
Director: André Øvredal
Writer: André Øvredal
Producers: Sveinung Golimo, John M. Jacobsen
Starring: Otto Jespersen
Country of Origin: Norway
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 90 min.
The Minneapolis Film Festival is not exactly known for their genre fare. Though on opening night of 2011, they kicked that myth right out of the way big time with The Troll Hunter, a Cloverfield-like romp through the beautiful countryside of Norway where menacing trolls lurk through the forest at night waiting to pick off anyone unfortunate enough to cross paths with the beast(s).
Shot in a veritae, found footage style, the picture reminds very much of something like The Blair Witch project in that it is a student film crew wandering and running for their lives through the woods. The film is not scary in the slightest. It’s got excitement and thrills but if it’s terror you’re looking for this ain’t your movie. It’s more like a Jurassic Park thrill ride than anything else. Though lots of comparisons to many great films could be drawn, The Troll Hunter very much has it’s own unique vibe and subject matter. We’ve seen vampires, zombies and werewolves thousands of times over the past 30 years, but I can’t remember seeing (or even hearing about) any movie that tackles the troll mythology like this one does. And no, Troll 2 does not count.
The basic setup is that three college students are looking to do a documentary on bear poaching for a class project. The locals direct them to a ornery recluse who they all claim is likely a poacher. After some prodding and convincing, the man allows them to tag along on one of his scouting/hunting expeditions that he only partakes in at night. They quickly realize that this guys isn’t out hunting bears… but trolls.
Being an obviously low budget creature feature, obviously the CGI used for the troll effects isn’t exactly of WETA caliber. Still, for the price paid and the country of origin (i.e. resources available) these enormous creatures, some standing as tall as a mountain and others about the height of large to medium size trees look exceptionally convincing. Sure they’re not perfect, but they don’t exactly look like they were made with Adobe “After Effects” software either. The good news is that the film makers seem to realize their limitations and use creative camera tricks to ease their F/X budget. Luckily, part of toll lore is that they only come out at night, so most of the footage is dark to begin with. Because of this, the cameraman uses a lot of green night vision technology which helps conceal some of the details of the trolls that might not looks as good in broad daylight. There is some shaky cam and distant shots that also help to hide some of the defects. Lastly, there is a scene that takes place in sort of blizzard conditions which is one more way the filmmakers were able to get around some of the technical problems that they might otherwise have had. In a nutshell, everything looks pretty damn impressive.
Part of the fun of the movie is the originality at play here. As I mentioned, I can’t remember ever seeing a troll movie before. So catching up on some of the terms and mythology of the creatures is kind of a treat. As there are with zombies and vampires, there are “rules” to engaging with a troll. Smells, religious affiliation, UV light, among other things all play a role in troll hunting. On top of this we have to get up to snuff on basic troll types/names and their territorial habits. All of this is new to me and fun to learn about. Couple all of this with the unique weaponry of the troll hunter and it’s a pretty good time to watch him in action. The machine gun style of the UV light is a particularly nice touch – also a weapon utilized in Blade, here it is given sound effect and made a bit more stylish. It’s awesome.
To help with these lessons there is a small community of specialists helping out the troll hunter, from game wardens to veterinarians, they all are helping each other to learn more about these creatures and for some inexplicable reason, keeping the truth from the masses. These characters really don’t do much in the story other than to give some different people for protagonists to interact with, but they help keep the story going forward and give the audience a little bit of exposition without being too dumbed down.
As mentioned, there’s not much terror in this film. Though it’s currently not rated, if I were to give it the Andrew rating it would easily be in the PG realm. No hint of any cussing and the gore is kept to an absolute minimum (think Star Wars IV and you’ve got about the same amount of blood). It might be a little too intense for some of the really little ones but otherwise there shouldn’t be any problem taking a school age child into this one. Part of the reason for this is the whimsical nature of the entire escapade. A lot of the reaction shots from the documentary crew are played for laughs; not straight up slapstick, but constant quirky looks of fright or amusement right to the camera keep things feeling almost like something straight out of “The Office.” The deadpan and serious calmness of the main character is too much fun to take seriously. His voice never raises and he never appears to feel threatened or desperate at any point. He’s so confident and efficient in everything that he does, I’d actually prefer to have him protecting me from the Rancor over Luke Skywalker. Once you warm up to that character, he’s a ball to hang around with.
This is going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s not quite as exciting or well shot as something like Jurassic Park or even Cloverfield. It does have the benefit of feeling like new territory even though it’s made in a familiar style. The running with the shaky cam can get a bit tiresome quickly and it takes a while for things to really amp up. But once we’re firmly embedded within the troll hunter’s world, things pick up and we hardly notice the shoddy camera work. And while the film maybe could be snipped here and there to make it about 20 minutes shorter, again, once the action starts to pick up, the time flies by.
Ultimately the filmmakers made a pretty enjoyable night at the theater for almost anyone. Despite their obvious lack of budget nothing feels like it was skimped on or the audience was duped. Some of the slightly inferior effects take away nothing and in fact, help add to the movie’s charm. They deliver what is promised and for the most part it is refreshing and original. It’s not cinema mastery by a long shot, but for a genre feature that has something to offer just about everyone in the household, you’re not going to do much better.