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Review: Trollhunter (2011)

Trollhunter (2011)

Directed by: André Øvredal

Premise: A Norwegian pseudo-documentary. A group of college students film a documentary about a government employee who secretly hunts giant trolls in the woods of Norway.

What Works: In special effects pictures dealing with the uncanny, there are two ways to present the fantastic. The first style is the ostentatious showmanship of films like Avatar or King Kong. In these pictures the films linger on the amazing visuals and deliberately conceive images that are designed to impress the viewer. The other style is more subtle, such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Night of the Living Dead, in which the fantastic enter into the frame without fanfare. Neither one of these methods is necessarily better than the other; their use depends on the style of the film. Trollhunter is a pseudo-documentary in the same style of [Rec], The Blair Witch Project, and Cloverfield and as such the film depends on integrating the uncanny into the everyday. On that level, Trollhunter is exceptionally successful. This film is able to convincingly present a ludicrous premise: that there are hundred-foot tall trolls roaming the Norwegian countryside, one man is in charge of restricting them to their territory, and the public is completely ignorant about it. The trolls of the film look entirely convincing and integrate seamlessly into the gritty, handheld cinematography. The film spends a lot of its time on the road with the troll hunter of the title, played by Otto Jespersen, and although the film does not give Jespersen much to do the actor does have a weariness and exhaustion about his character that has a lot of reality to it. 

What Doesn’t: The problems of Trollhunter are built into its style. Lost footage films have certain limitations inherent to the design of the film and Trollhunter falls into these limitations. It is hard, if not impossible, to build characters in the pseudo-documentary subgenre which creates a challenge for Trollhunter, which is ostensively a character study. Although the troll hunter of the title is really the focus of the film, there isn’t much of a character for the audience to study. He is an average blue collar guy and although his lack of color is part of the design of the film he is also really boring to watch. That leaves the film crew for the audience to empathize with, since they are in the most jeopardy and it is through them that the audience experiences the peril of the story, but there just isn’t enough here for the audience to do that. Trollhunter also suffers from its shaky camera work, which is hard to follow and a lot of the nighttime sequences are incomprehensible. One of the most annoying features of the found footage genre are the endings of these films. The footage has to be “lost” somehow and as this genre has gone on the methods of losing that footage have become increasingly stupid or hackneyed. Trollhunter’s ending is inconclusive; it does not bring the character study of the hunter to any meaningful ending and the film crew’s disappearance comes across as a ruse to conform to the conventions of the lost footage genre rather than the logical conclusion for the story.

Bottom Line: Trollhunter is worth seeing for those looking for a picture off the beaten path and its visuals are really impressive. But like a lot of found footage horror films this is a picture whose novelty runs out very quickly because there are no compelling characters in it.

Episode: #350 (July 31, 2011)