Tourists who visit Norway will be very familiar with the thousands of troll figures on display in souvenir shops. Nice, cosy, cute, creatures of fairy tales. All a lie, of course.
Trolls are real. Trolls are evil. Trolls are lethal. And the Norwegian government are directing a massive cover-up to hide their existence from the public and the media. That’s what The Troll Hunter exposes, as everything is captured by the cameras of a group of film students.
The “found footage” device is clearly a Blair Witch/Cloverfield rip-off, but The Troll Hunter is a fantasy-tinged comedy as much as it is a horror film. The students go looking for a mysterious hunter (Otto Jespersen), thinking he might be the culprit behind illegal bear killings in the woods and mountains of Western Norway. They get a lot more than they bargained for when it turns out that he is really the government’s secret troll hunter, tasked with constraining the vicious creatures to their habitats, and hunting down those who stray.
In fact, the hunter is tired of his job and the pathetic working conditions, so he invites the film crew to tag along and document his current mission: Investigating the unexplained migration of trolls out of their natural habitats and into human areas.
The animation of the titular trolls is good, at times superb. This is somewhat surprising to note, but very much a sign of future possibilities for a tiny film industry which has traditionally struggled to muster budgets that can lift it out of social realism. In this sense, The Troll Hunter is a revelation, inventive and unafraid.
Many traditional Norwegian fairy tales are referenced, including a bridge sequence that positions Jespersen’s character as the first Norwegian superhero. Indeed, the film re-calibrates the concept of Norwegian national identity on film by two means. The trolls, of course. But also by taking the documentary camera into the gloomy Norwegian fall.
Having grown up in Western Norway, it’s a pleasure to see the vistas of the fjords and mountains in a mockumentary. The rain-soaked woods and dirt roads, the ferries and camping grounds. It’s fun recognition for many Norwegians, and sure to provide a different aesthetic for international audiences and horror fans. As Norwegian film’s first modern foray into portraying a massive cultural heritage, The Troll Hunter is tentative but certainly entertaining.
The film works best when it leans towards humor. The hand-held horror is unable to break free from the shadow of Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project, but when the focus shifts to questions of politics and ecology, the film finds an impressive groove. Jespersen carries the movie, playing the hunter as a completely humorless straight-face, who is increasingly bewildered by people’s inability to register the huge beasts that roam the forests and eat their livestock. He’s frustrated, bemused, incredulous and weary. And in his rather simple lines there are many stabs at modern day problems, including the climate crisis, the hunting of endangered species, and energy politics.
The Troll Hunter is not very scary, but it is very entertaining.
Starring Otto Jespersen, Hans Morten Hansen, Thomas Alf Larsen, Johanna Mørck, Knut Nærum, Robert Stoltenberg, Glenn Erland Tosterud.
Rated 7 of 10.
Directed by André Øvredal.
Written by Christer Andresen.