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Monday, September 12, 2011

The Troll Hunter

It could be lazy to compare The Troll Hunter to fellow Scandinavian fantasy Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale from last year, but there are an abundance of similarities to be found. Both are fantastical tales, borne out of the dark side of fairytails. Both utilise their almost mystical landscape to great effect in helping to craft some of the fantasy. And then there is the fact that both come from histories steeped in rich mythos. So while Rare Exports centered on the fact that not only does Santa Claus exist, but he is a centuries old demon, imparting only terror and misery on those at Christmas time, The Troll Hunter rather matter-of-factly deals with the very real secret of giant trolls living in rural, remote Norway. The film begins on a small group of film maker students, interviewing the locals and trying to find the culprit behind the bear slayings in their town. Through this they find Hans (Otto Jespersen), a very private man reluctant to let any camera upon him or be interviewed. However, those pesky students follow Hans one night and find a lot more than they bargained for. As it turns out, Hans works for the Norwegian government as (very large) pest control for the problem of trolls. Disillusioned with his work and sick of being undervalued, he eventually agrees to let the small camera crew document his hunt for the various trolls that have breached their territories and the reasons behind this.

Through it's found footage mockumentary stylings, director André Øvredal has great fun in exploring the various types of troll, their behaviour and just how they have managed to exist all this time without the public knowing about them. Like the aforementioned Rare Exports it is also very refreshing to see films coming from somewhat smaller countries and competing with Hollywood in the broad entertainment stakes. While The Troll Hunter certainly had a small budget, it still delivers it's fair share of 'money shots' through the escalating set pieces and troll attacks. The film is a monster movie of sorts, as each of the trolls tower imposingly over our hero with each desperately eager to drink the blood of a Christian man. Hans is hilariously unfazed throughout. Wisely, the film doesn't take itself too seriously and this is personified in Hans. To the film makers and the audience, the events are frequently amazing and yet to him, it is all in a days work. The designs and effects of each troll is wonderful and original, giving valuable personality to many of the different creatures. The sound design must be applauded also for adding to the nuance and tension so that while the camera might not pick up what is stalking them, the various thuds and stomps let the audience know that something big and imposing can never be too far off. Alas, it's basic format seems to be the films main drawback. While it was obviously chosen as a means to paper over any budgetary concerns with the monsters, it seems that the 'found footage' format' is only growing old at this stage. Sure the film offers plenty of hair raising moments with great effects, but that is only ever followed by endless scenes of Hans driving through (admittedly stunning) Norwegian fjords and landscapes along with the dreaded Blair Witch patented effect of 'shaky cam running through the woods as something chases from behind'. Surely a more traditional narrative approach could have worked better while still keeping it's minimal effects to the basics. Don't forget that for Jaws the prosthetic shark on set barely ever worked which led to Spielberg having to come up with ever more ingenious ways of personifying danger without ever showing the monster. You don't need poorly shot shaky hand held camera for the audience to visualise themselves in the situation.

Verdict: 6/10
A frequently fun and exciting monster movie. Norway competes with Hollywood and for the most part admirably succeeds with it's effective low key CG effects and designs. It's themes and main character are original and it is only in it's mockumentary format that shows the genre is growing ever more tired and which takes some of the steam out of proceedings.

"The Troll Hunter" Trailer

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