Fantastic Fest Review: Andre Ovredal's Awesome 'Troll Hunter'
by Jeremy Kirk
October 7, 2010
Trolls! It's a premise that could very easily come off campy and without any sincerity at all. The thought of a found footage film about hunting trolls in the forests and mountains of Norway could work against the film. It could illicit laughter from the audience, as ideas of Harry Potter or Gandalf saving the day might fill their distracted heads from what is playing out in the film before them.
Thankfully, with Troll Hunter, director Andre Ovredal has achieved the extremely difficult. He has made up the idea of trolls living out in the wild, he has taken that myth that is so instilled in his own, Norwegian culture, and he has crafted a film that is as terrifying as it is awe-inspiring. Troll Hunter is yet one more instance of a found footage horror film taking its audience and placing it solidly in the middle of frightening and extremely intense situations, and it does so without the slightest sense of unintentional jest.
The film centers on a crew of students who set out to document a potential bear poacher. What they find instead is a government conspiracy and a man whose job it is to keep the trolls of Norway out of the public eye. The man, aged and tired of the life he is leading, agrees to let the students document his job at hand.
I said "unintentional" earlier, because Troll Hunter is not the hardcore, balls-to-the-wall thriller you might expect from other found footage films like Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity. The terror here is more of a grand scale, like watching dinosaurs walk the earth rather than hearing strange noises in the woods or in your darkened house. There are moments that are no less terrifying that what might be found in those more horror-driven films, but Troll Hunter is the monster movie equivalent, a Cloverfield-esque sense of style but on a much grander scale.
What Ovredal has done here (he both wrote and directed the film, but, outside of that, there is very little information to be found about this project) is create an entire myth, sometimes delving into the biological elements of it, for the trolls he depicts here.
When the hunter takes the documentary crew to a veterinarian who helps him in his hunts, the vet explains, somewhat scientifically, no less, the way trolls' inner biology works and why they react the way they do when hit with sunlight. In essence, some trolls turn to stone and some just explode into gushy piles. It's something Ovredal takes from the myths of his homeland, the stories of old about trolls and puts those rules to the task of modern science.
The moments these rules are put to the test, though, are some of the more breathtaking moments in the film. The hunter draws the trolls in, and he unleashes with a flood of UV rays. None of this would work, mind you, were it not for incredible CG effects, and Ovredal never allows those effects from falling short of amazing. The concept of found footage and the shaky camera techniques that ensue from that help hide any problems poor CG might create. However, judging from what we actually do see of the trolls here, it wouldn't be a problem if everything were shot in impeccably smooth HD.
The effects as well as the design of the trolls in Troll Hunter are brilliant, and they work together to create an even bigger presence in the viewer's mind. Ovredal takes us from the darkened theater and puts us squarely deep in the woods or inside an abandoned mine shaft or out among the mountainous regions. Each area has its own, specific troll native to it, and each, respective scene grows in its elaborate intensity to the point where we genuinely feel like we are riding inside the crew's vehicle, attempting to avoid being stepped on by a creature 20 times our own size.
While the final moments of Troll Hunter, no specifics on narrative included, are a true work of cinematic brilliance and creates some of the best suspense seen in recent memory, it also becomes somewhat hindered by the government conspiracy angle of it all. It has to come into play. Ovredal sets it up and plays it out throughout the entirety of the film. Unfortunately, as with most of these found footage films, it all ends abruptly and with very little resolution. The ending subtitles explain a bit, and an epilogue of a news conference creates an intense laugh, one that makes the viewer wonder how much of it was real or not. However, that serves the overall idea. The narrative is left as open as a blown-out door.
Despite this, Troll Hunter remains a triumph of found footage intensity, a monster movie rollercoaster ride that puts enough story and development into everything to the giant footsteps matter. Those footsteps resonate throughout the theater, and not since a particularly giant lizard roamed the streets of Tokyo have audiences been introduced to something so awesome. In the truest sense of the word, Troll Hunter is awesome, a highly entertaining, incredibly suspenseful, and near perfect film that will surely do for the mountains of Norway what Jaws did for the open water.
Jeremy's Fantastic Fest Rating: 9.5 out of 10