Now for something a little different: a movie about killing trolls! And I’m not talking about QAnon! (Cue: slide whistle sound effect…. Wait. What do you mean Made Overseas isn’t a podcast? What did I buy all these expensive microphones for?)
The opening shots of Trollhunter will make you think this is The Blair Witch Project by way of Norway. If you’ve watched at least one found footage movie in the last twenty years, you know what I’m talking about. The camera-work is shaky and grainy at parts and sometimes viewed through the green tint of a night vision camera. A technique that is the favorite of, say, low budget filmmakers. (The budget was roughly $4 million US, which I imagine is a pretty hefty sum in the Norwegian film industry.). There are some clever touches. For some reason, the crew has to change camera personnel, and the filming style changes from one person to the next. The first part to the movie is shot like a horror film. The latter portions feel more like a wildlife documentary.
The movie’s intro claims that the footage, dropped anonymously at the film studio but verified to be authentic, was edited down from over 280 minutes of footage. Interestingly, the studio felt it prudent to include many scenes of landscape filmed from a moving vehicle in the final product.
An amateur documentary crew straight out college are working on a project: to find out who’d responsible for all the dead animals animals they keep running across. This isn’t something small like rabbits or squirrels: the body of a big brown bear has been spotted in an open field. They suspect that this is the fault of a local poacher named Hans (Otto Jespersen). The host, Finn (Hans Morten Hansen) keep pestering him, guerilla style. He names Michael Moore specifically as his idol. Hans doesn’t same much except to warn the kids off from following him. Given how intrusive these kids are, I half expected Hans to punch one of the in the face.
The team finally tracks him to a dark, unpopulated forest. The cameraman (Glenn Erland Tosterud) follows in the darkness, filming endless rows of tree trunks and branches. The sound engineer (Tomas Alf Larsen) isn’t far behind. From the distance, they see flashes of light illuminating the darkness. We hear strange noises. Growling. Has another wild animal fallen to the poacher? Suddenly, Hans bursts from the trees like a bat out of Hell. He is wide-eyed and panicked.
“Troll!” he yells.
Whoever wrote the Wikipedia entry for Trollhunter describes this as a “dark fantasy horror film”. I’ll admit that some elements of that make it into the movie, but truthfully the “dark” and the “horror” parts of that description are so ineffective that you might be disappointed that you’re not getting that movie. I mean… the “horror” creatures are gigantic trolls. TROLLS! Granted, that might be enough to spook you. My aunt lives in Norway, and once upon a time she sent me a couple of disturbing troll figurines. I rather like them, what with them looking like elderly Norwegians. My wife is terrified of them, though. She had hoped that I’d thrown them out when we moved to our new house. But they still live, lurking in a box somewhere in the garage. When she found out I was watching a movie featuring those creepy Norwegian trolls, she noped straight out of the room, citing that she wanted to sleep tonight.
However, when we see these trolls, they are big and ungainly and funny looking. They waddle about and have a permanent dumbfounded expression on their old-people faces. We don’t see them that often either. You can pull up a YouTube video of all the times the trolls appear on screen, and it’s only five minutes long. The tactics to stop the trolls are downright silly, too. In a direct reference to “Billy Goats Gruff”, Hans trots out three goats atop a bridge as bait.
Perhaps my favorite element is when Hans asks the kids if any of them is a Christian. That’s because trolls can smell the blood of a Christian man. It hurts your brain when you try to apply any sort of logic to it. Does becoming a Christian change your DNA on a cellular level? It doesn’t matter. What it does, though, is lead to a tense scene where the group is cornered by a bunch of hairy trolls. Hans tells everyone to calm down and pass the time when, suddenly, one of the group gives out a terrified whisper, “I’m a Christian. I’M A CHRISTIAN!” To which Hans tries to call him down and tells him to control his sweat. Trolls can sniff out Christian sweat. Otherwise our trollhunters are functionally invisible.
Even better? They encounter a Muslim at one point in the film. When asked if that’s going to be dangerous, Hans goes, “I have no idea.” It’s a rules challenge that goes unanswered in the movie itself. Just think: a common origin for all Abrahamic religions just might be the key to world peace! World peace… as divined by trolls!
So yeah… what that Wikipedia description misses is that this movie is basically a straight up comedy. I’m pretty sure the Norwegian moviegoers knew that going in. Both of the main actors — Jespersen and Hansen — are known in Norway as comedians. Jespersen, in fact, tends to court controversy. In the past, his act has included book burning, American flag burning, and implying that a potential assassin should go after the Norwegian Prime Minister. He also raised the ire of the Jerusalem Post when he rather callously remarked, “I would like to take the opportunity to remember all the billions of fleas and lice that lost their lives in German gas chambers, without having done anything wrong other than settling on persons of Jewish background.” Suffice to say, Jespersen is a bit of a raconteur.
So there’s definitely some subtle tongue-in-cheek humor. When the film crew learns that Hans his hunting trolls, they are incredibly skeptical. He’s either a lunatic or he’s pulling an elaborate prank. They don’t take trolls seriously because we shouldn’t take trolls seriously.
There’s also a bit of political humor, too. In the closing scene, the Norwegian Prime Minister defends a system of powerlines marring the beautiful mountainscape as the only defense against trolls, and it can’t be read as anything but a dig at government policy. A lot of it is improv, too. When asked about his process, director André Øvredal said, “I allowed the actors the freedom to say whatever they wanted – as long as they didn’t say what was in the script.”
And yet there’s a lot of fun world-building, too. After the filmmakers have their first encounter with the troll, Hans softens and encourages them to keep filming. (If he’s so laissez-faire about the whole mystery, why are trolls still so secret and brushed off as children’s fairy tales?) What unfolds is a whole undiscovered world of troll species, some maybe only ten-feet y’all while others towering bigger than skyscrapers. There’s a government agency tasked with keeping the existence of trolls a secret for some reason, as well as a troll veterinarian who makes sure that the troll population is free of bad diseases. Their job, which Hans has grown weary of, seems to be herding the troll population into safe areas and keeping them away from places where they might be dangerous to humans. Fortunately, it’s not too hard to defeat a troll. If they’re ever exposed to sunlight, or a powerful UV ray, they turn into stone.
Combined with the found-footage style of filmmaking, this handy excuse of filming trolls outside of sunlight helps mask any shortcomings with the CGI. Viewing the trolls through the shaky, green-tinted night vision lenses help blur the creatures a bit, who already look like giant goofy muppets.
Not everything hangs together from a logical standpoint, and it does impact the story. The secret government agency is clearly unhappy that trolls are being filmed by students, and neither they nor Hans do anything to hide what they are doing. Yet they do nothing about it, as if they are powerless to stop these intrepid filmmakers. Hey, why not send a couple of goons to rough these kids up? That would go a way to present a threat.
Trollhunter, though, is really quite a fun movie. Viewers looking for a horror film with Norwegian trolls may come away a little disappointed. I advise you look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Did I really want a horror movie based on giant-sized versions of ugly troll dolls?” However, people looking for a horror comedy will have a great time. It’s a movie that goofs on found footage movies and still creates a fun little fantasy world to explore. I’m a little sad they never made Trollhunter 2 to expand on the groundwork they laid down.
Trollhunter is currently available for streaming on Netflix. (It’s not to be confused with Guillermo del Toro’s animated TV series Trollhunters, also on the streaming service. If you do a search, Toro’s version pops up first before the other one. A disservice to the director who gave us The Autopsy of Jane Doe!)
Next: School can be rough, discover the children of Japan’s Battle Royale.