October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.
Starring: Otto Jespersen, Hans Morten Hansen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Johanna Mørck
Synopsis: In Norway, a group of students are making a student film about bear poaching when they discover that Hans, the man they are looking to question in the most recent incident, is not, in fact, a bear hunter but a troll hunter. To be specific, he works for the Norwegian government as a sort of animal control officer. Trolls are real, and it’s his job to help conceal this from the people and to kill trolls that come out of their territories or endanger humans. Part of the Norwegian Wildlife Board is devoted to the cover-up. Hans agrees to let the students film him in his work, partially because he’s kind of tired of his job and keeping secrets, although the head of the Wildlife Board tells them they won’t be allowed to keep the tapes. The trolls are acting strangely, coming out of their territories much more often than usual and Hans is to control them and find out why. While following him, one of the students is injured by a troll, and the cameraman is killed (it turns out he was secretly a Christian, and trolls can smell Christian blood, of course). They hire a new camera person (a Muslim, which hopefully is safe) and track the largest of all the trolls, a Jotnar, to the far north where he is supposed to be contained by power lines but has gotten free. It turns out the trolls are suffering from rabies, which what’s making them act so recklessly, and what’s infected the bitten crew member. Hans manages to kill the troll while the film crew runs for safety but they are intercepted by a group from the troll control office. The footage ends with them scattering and a note that says the the tape was found on the road and none of the students was ever seen again. The final scene shows the Prime Minister of Norway slipping up and admitting the existence of trolls in a press conference.
The technique of found footage has been overused in horror over the last couple decades, but in Trollhunter it’s generally put to good effect. The setting of beautiful, rural Norway also helps freshen up the format, and most the it feels more like a wildlife documentary than a genre film. Trollhunter is definitely a dark comedy, and the humor is as dry as the Nordic tundra. The film takes advantage of Norway’s cultural obsession with trolls and its long history of folk tales and art, referencing stories, legends, and paintings wherever possible. I got a lot of the jokes, but as with any foreign film in another language, I had the impression that there were a lot of things I was just missing. Honestly, that made it all the more enjoyable, the feeling that I didn’t totally understand everything about it immediately and might never and that is totally fine.
Trollhunter is definitely satirizing the Norwegian government first and foremost, although I don’t have a grasp of all the issues in play, wildlife management and development were definitely on the board, as well as the secretive and inept nature of all large governments everywhere. The idea not just that the government is keeping such a huge secret but managing it in such a mundane and bureaucratic way is appealing regardless of your country of origin. Some things transcend cultures.
The acting is solid, with Hans particular good in a subtly comedic role of the tired, jaded old troll hunter. The effects are also generally well done, and the thick forests and misted mountains are made good use of in adding to the realism of the situation, even as ludicrous conversations about eating contests and billy goats are taking place with deadpan seriousness. The trolls fit well into the landscape, and their backstory as far as biology is well thought out by the writers, so they really do feel like part of the ecosystem and not just movie monsters dropped in to terrorize our characters.
The students that make up the film crew aren’t bad, but they’re fodder from the beginning and we know it. They have some personalities and development, but really they’re there to illuminate Hans and the world of the trolls. The main complaint about Trollhunter is that it’s a little too long, dragging a bit in the latter half once we’ve had the trolls revealed and it’s clear what the ultimate fate of the group is going to be. It also shares with its found-footage siblings the universal characteristic of having an unsatisfying ending, which really can’t be avoided. And honestly, there’s not much to the plot when you get right down to it. It kind of trails off. Hans defeats the Jotnar, but now what? Are bands of rabid trolls going to start rampaging through Norway? It would seem not, but if not, why not?
These are not questions Trollhunter is interested in. It’s interested in exploring what would happen if the legends so many Norwegians believe in were true, in highlighting the ridiculousness of the government, and in showing us a bunch of people running around the woods fighting trolls. And for the most part, that’s enough. It’s a fun movie, and cynical enough that you don’t really feel bad when people die. And it’s pretty to look at… the trolls are cool, the scenery is gorgeous and bleak. It’s unique enough for you not to care that nothing is really resolved, and it’s funny enough to keep your attention even when the plot crawls a little.
Quality: 6 Tusseladds out of 10 – Looks great, gets some laughs, and is just weird enough to work
Enjoyability: 8 Rangefants out of 10 – Best the first time you see it, because you’re not sure what to expect, but diminishing returns on repeated viewings.