TrollHunter (or Trolljegeren) is an ingenious little Norwegian import; a found footage production with sturdy visual effects, convincing acting and a crafty script. It’s a mockumentary willing to go above and beyond the call of duty, taking the time to build a rich sense of universe lore and introduce a thoroughly fascinating central character. Found footage pictures often grow banal due to their deadly serious disposition, which is why the genre has ostensibly passed its use-by date. It’s also why TrollHunter is so wonderfully refreshing, as it puts a realistic found footage spin on a fantastical premise while simultaneously being playfully jokey. Director/co-writer André Øvredal did not set out to bore us with straight horror; he wanted us to have a good time with this agreeably tongue-in-cheek ride, providing a lively, sorely-needed jolt for this much-maligned subgenre.
When evidence arises in the Norwegian town of Volda that unorthodox bear poaching is occurring, college students Thomas (Tosterud), Johanna (Morck) and Kalle (Larsen) grab their filmmaking gear to conduct journalistic research. They’re soon led to the enigmatic Hans (Jespersen), and start to press the gruff man for questioning. As it turns out, the grizzled Hans is not a bear poacher but a troll hunter working for the covert Troll Security Service organisation, tasked with controlling any trolls who wander past their boundaries. Tagging along with Hans who accepts them as observers, the students are led around the country, learning about troll mythology and stumbling upon various types of the monsters. But Thomas and his crew are also ignorant, and refuse to realise the danger with the government that will come from their filmmaking attention.
The history of the trolls and the Troll Security Service is pure gold, and it’s clear that a lot of thought went into devising the flick’s internal lore. For instance, it’s commonly accepted that trolls turn to stone in sunlight, so Øvredal ran with this idea: Hans carries around a UV gun and has UV lights mounted on his jeep to combat them. Scientific explanation is even provided to plausibly explain why sun turns trolls to stone. Furthermore, Øvredal projected the film’s mythology onto everyday findings to amusing effect. In one scene, for example, the characters find a typical open landscape beset with rocks, which, as it turns out, is actually a troll battlefield. This splendid sense of humour is healthily retained throughout, and it’s small details like these which give TrollHunter more depth than other pictures of this ilk.
Key to TrollHunter‘s success is the character of Hans. A bit like Quint from Jaws, Hans is a gruff old bastard who has seen his fair share of action and has grown weary of his unrewarding trade. In a less skilful movie there wouldn’t be any believable motive for Hans to allow college kids to film him, but Øvredal realised the importance of making us believe Hans’ decision, and it works. See, troll hunting is in fact a drab profession – Hans is merely an unsung hero whose phenomenal achievements are shielded from the general public. Controversial Norwegian comedian Otto Jespersen was a perfect match for this character, as he looks the part and has the right persona to match. Jespersen works particularly well because of how nonchalant he is about his trade – he clearly does not give a shit, and he treats life-threatening battles as if he’s just mowing the lawn (after putting on ridiculous-looking armour to protect himself as he prepares to kill a troll, he merely quips “I’m so sick of this shit“).
On top of being genuinely hilarious and enjoyably tongue-in-cheek, TrollHunter is truly exciting and interesting when it wants to be. The troll designs are undeniably hammy, yet the digital effects bringing them to life are incredibly vivid and realistic, allowing us to believe that these mythical creatures actually exist. Øvredal is a skilled filmmaker, too, as the various troll encounters are excellent (especially the awe-inspiring climax). But while the film is a rollicking good time for most of its duration, the final act suffers a tonal identity crisis. Certain things are suddenly taken a tad too seriously, abandoning the light-hearted approach for no viable reason. As a result, TrollHunter‘s new car smell wanes and it starts to feel as if the premise has been stretched out a bit too much. The tonal change also leads to a rather unsatisfying ending, though the brilliant post-movie captions close the door on a more positive note.
TrollHunter‘s American remake rights were promptly snatched up even before it was released in the U.S.A., which is nonsensical. The transition from Norway to America is an impossible proposition since the story and all of the troll mythology is specific to Norway’s cultural heritage and there is no American equivalent. Mark my words: you must watch the original film before it’s bastardised. TrollHunter may be subtitled, but this low-budget gem is indispensible. It’s easily the best, most inventive found footage movie in years.