Movie Review: Troll Hunter
By Matthew Huntley
June 13, 2011
Somewhere along its attempt to be both an absurd horror movie and an understated satire, Troll Hunter loses its way. Here is a movie at tug of war with itself - on one level it wants to be scary and create genuine tension; on another, it wants to have a tongue-in-cheek sensibility and mock other movies that embrace the old “found footage” tactic to manipulate viewers. Both aspects work to a degree, but neither generates any real lasting effect.
One of the problems is the filmmakers never seemed fully certain of the kind of movie they wanted to make. Not that a movie can’t be a mix of genres, but it needs to be confident in at least one category so it can carry the others. Scream, for instance, was a horror movie before it was anything else. Horror is what it knew, and with that quality locked down, it could also work as a satire. Troll Hunter teeters back and forth so much between we’re not quite sure how to take it.
The story takes place in Norway and the opening text advises us everything we’re about to see was compiled from found footage discovered in 2008. Three students from Volda College - Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Mørck) and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen) - are making a documentary about an alleged bear poacher, a practice that is highly frowned upon in the area. The locals threaten the unknown man and the students eventually track him down to a trailer park. His name is Hans (Otto Jespersen), but he declines an interview. When the students notice the huge scratch marks on the side of his jeep, they decide to follow him and end up in the woods at night. Far away in the distance, they see flashing lights and Hans running toward them, yelling, “Troll!”
As it turns out, Hans is not a bear poacher but a certified troll hunter and he tells them if they want to come along and see what he does, they must first grease up in troll slime and be non-Christian (since trolls can smell Christianity in the blood). The students agree but remain in disbelief until they see one for themselves in a scene that recalls the first appearance of the Tyrannosaurus Rex in Jurassic Park.
Eventually the students learn Hans works for a secret government organization called the Troll Security Service (TSS), which monitors and controls the troll population, of which there are several different species. The TSS actually has their hands in a lot more than most people know, including the design and distribution of the power lines (which are used to keep trolls at bay). There are even veterinarians who specialize in troll biology. But nobody knows about trolls or the TSS for a reason, which explains why anyone who’s seen them ends up either missing or dead, not to mention why the students haven’t been seen or heard from since their footage was found.
All of this plays as mild fun and the movie has many unexpected surprises and developments that keep us intrigued. As a horror movie, it’s not all about shock, gore or silly chase scenes, although it has its fair share of all three. Instead, it focuses more on the fear of the unknown and the idea that an organization such as the TSS could exist without people knowing about it. The special effects are also neat and convincing for such a low-budget production. Director André Øvredal films most of the troll scenes against dark and gloomy backgrounds so the digital renders are more authentic. And, if nothing else, the movie serves as a travelogue for Norway; the outdoor photography of the country’s mountainous and verdant terrain makes it look fresh and appealing.
But as a horror and/or satire, Troll Hunter never fully takes off. Its indecision to claim itself as either one or the other holds it back from breaking out and being able to balance both genres. In the back of our minds, we know it’s sending up movies like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, but it’s also deriving itself from them and it’s simply not skilled or exciting enough to have it both ways. We’re always interested in what we’re watching, sure, but the movie doesn’t put us on edge or have enough of an attitude to really make a relevant point about the “found footage” horror movie. In the end, what’s it trying to do or say? I’m not sure the filmmakers really know.