Some films change your life; they say deep and abiding things about human nature, and make you think long and hard about the world. Trollhunter is not one of those films. The mock-documentary about three student filmmakers who stumble upon a Norwegian government secret while trying to make a film about bear poachers is at its heart deeply silly. Trollhunter succeeds though because it plays its premise completely straight. The temptation in a film about a man who hunts trolls for a living would be to camp it up with a knowing wink at the audience, but to the credit of director André Øvredal and star Otto Jepersen everything is laid before you simply and solemnly; the humor is found in the context, or in the words of Øvredal, “[it adds] to the absurdity of everything to insist so intensely that it’s real.” (Chris Eggertsen Bloody Disgusting, 5/6/11)
In the tradition of most found footage films, Trollhunter begins with a declaration that it is genuine and that none of the images have been altered. In fact one of the most impressive things about Trollhunter is the special effects. Norway has a longstanding tradition surrounding trolls in legends and fairy tales, and André Øvredal wanted to honor that by making a truly Norwegian monster film. “My grandparents and my parents used to read me these stories from a book of fairy tales from the 18th century. I always loved the images in this book of the trolls, which are really frightening and kind of ominous. Very different than what the general public around the world think of when they hear the world ‘troll.’ Norwegian troll mythology is much darker. And the trolls are much bigger!” (Clark Collis Entertainment Weekly, 5/24/11) These trolls have a shaggy lived in feel to their design, with large noses and lichenous skin, and Øvredal created his own mythology surrounding the different species, their lifespans and their habits, based on Norwegian folklore. “We deliberately stayed away from all other depictions of monsters and trolls from other films and cultures.” (Chris Eggertsen Bloody Disgusting, 5/6/11) It is a very carefully built world, and the effort pays off in the effect shots, which are seamlessly integrated into the shaky cam footage. In one scene what you think is a tree trunk turns out to be the massive leg of a Tusseladd Troll. As Kalle, the shocked cameraman, pans up we look the three-headed giant in the eye for a fleeting second before Kalle turns tail and runs. It is a shot full of visual wit and technical skill, as is the Billy Goats Gruff sequence on a bridge later in the movie.
None of this would have mattered though if André Øvredal hadn’t found the right actors and most importantly the right tone. His three student filmmakers were all unknowns and acquit themselves adequately, but it is Otto Jepersen’s troll hunter, Hans, that is the lifeblood of the film. “We needed a character that was actually as Norwegian as the trolls for the character of the Troll Hunter. He’s based in my own family, he’s a working class person. To a degree, he does something amazing, but he doesn’t really see it. He just sees it from a very droll, every day perspective.” (Christina Radish Collider, 5/2/11) Jepersen is a well-known and controversial comedian in Norway, and his presence in the film was almost a joke in itself in its home country, but it’s his matter-of-fact delivery of bizarre troll facts, and his weary distaste for the bureaucracy and paperwork involved in controlling the population that grounds this film. If he had played things up for easy laughs, Trollhunter would be an overlong comedy sketch. It is because of his conviction that we stick around for the ride as well.
Trollhunter is far from perfect, the opening scenes before we meet Hans and the trolls drag on a little too long, and we have very little invested in our amateur film crew. But André Øvredal has created a fantastic fantasy, and has shown off a great deal of skill and subtly in doing so. Found footage is often dismissed on a technical level because it is so haphazard, but Trollhunter very deliberately uses the various camera techniques to tell the story in a logical and original way. The style of shooting changes markedly in the final act of the film, cleverly reflecting an important plot point. Øvredal uses all the tools at his disposal to tell the story, including the very present camera and the beautiful sound design. Sometimes all a movie really needs to do is entertain. Trollhunter aspires no higher, and so it succeeds.
Trollhunter injects inventiveness, folkloric idiosyncrasy and deadpan humor into the overexploited faux-documentary trend. A generous dollop of Jurassic Park inspiration doesn’t hurt either. – David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter 1/20/11