Troll Hunter Review
One of the biggest local box office hits in its native Norway last year and creating huge buzz on the festival circuit after its secret screening at Texas’ Fantastic Fest, Troll Hunter (Trolljegeren) finally gets a release on these shores on September 9th. The faux-documentary follows a group of students who are investigating a series of bear killings when they come across Hans (Otto Jespersen) and soon discover that he is a troll hunter, stumbling upon a government cover up conspiracy in the process.
Similar to the likes of Man Bites Dog, Troll Hunter’s main focus is on the titular character with the things he hunts as a second priority; anyone going in with expectations of endless troll-based events should lower those now. Ultimately it’s to the film’s benefit as it enhances the impact of the four main set pieces where Hans goes mano-a-mano with some suitably angry trolls, instead of them becoming just another scene; the standout being the first encounter with a Tosserlad that ends with a stunning shot that belies the film’s low budget origins, although each main set piece brings its own money shots and thrills in equal measure.
If anything, the budgetary constraints of the film has helped in other areas as well. Director André Øvredal has said that the documentary approach was a “necessity” in order to create the feel of a big budget without said budget and while he nails that feel – the four main trolls all have distinct personalities thanks to some excellent design and animation work – the old maxim of “less is more” also makes the climax to a latter scene, when the camera crew & Hans take refuge in a cave, chillingly effective from what we don’t see.
Still, the film wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective without the sterling work of Otto Jespersen, incredibly a comedian in his day job; his portrayal of a world-weary man who doesn’t see himself as the “hero” the camera crew come to see him as, is perfectly judged right down to his dry sense of humour (crucially not played for laughs as such) that crafts a character we can really root for. Unfortunately the same can’t be said of the rest of the cast: Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud) gets the most to do but his perky attitude is annoying rather than endearing; while both Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen) and Johanna (Johanna Mørck) suffer from a lack of characterisation with the focus mainly on Hans and Thomas.
If you can look past this though, what you’re left with is a highly entertaining and completely unique film that flits masterfully from laughs to chills, often within the same scene. Eschewing the usual shuddery nature of handheld, it effectively uses it sparingly to convey a sense of not knowing what the hell is going on (similar to the stunning [Rec]) during the gripping action sequences, while also allowing you to take in the gorgeous natural Norwegian scenery and entirely unnatural, yet equally superb, CGI work on the trolls themselves. Unsurprisingly, an American remake is already on the cards but it’ll have to go some way to match Troll Hunter’s winning lo-fi charm.