Troll Hunter Review
Though I would hesitate before calling Troll Hunter an all-out horror film, it does borrow its two central premises from the genre. On the one hand this is another addition to mock documentary/found footage approach that encompasses everything from Cannibal Holocaust to Cloverfield and is best typified by The Blair Witch Project. On the other this is a creature feature devoted to a mythical figure; as the title makes clear it is trolls we are dealing with here rather than Bigfoot, the abominable snowman or the Loch Ness monster. Combine the two for a film called Troll Hunter and it’s pretty easy to picture the end result: student filmmakers, grizzled expert and giant monsters of the kind given prominence on the promotional artwork.
The student filmmakers are trio Tomas Alf Larsen (cameraman), Glynis Johns’ look-alike Johanna Mørck (sound) and Glenn Erland Tosterud (our front-of-camera reporter/host). Initially their amateur opus is simply meant to be nothing more than a piece of investigative journalism into the illegal bear hunting taking place in and around their hometown. Soon enough they’re focussing their attentions on one man, following him from campsite to campsite, on ferries and on the road. He ignores their advances until it no longer becomes a possibility: one night, whilst our students in hot pursuit, Tosterud gets attacked by something in the darkness and the man (Otto Jespersen) emerges from nowhere screaming “Troll!” Bear hunting is no longer on their mind, now they want Jespersen - the eponymous troll hunter - to be their guide and for their film to be an exposé into the existence of these hitherto mythical giants.
There’s a wonderful moment about half-an-hour into Troll Hunter that immediately follows the first proper sighting. A three-headed creature emerges from a Norwegian forest and pursues our quartet for a couple of shaky cam minutes. Once the danger has been neutralised (and I won’t spoil the reasons) the three students react not with shock or terror or disbelief, but with pure joy and excitement. They are in awe of what they’ve just seen, their faces full of ecstatic wonder. It’s an interesting reaction because it also helps to encapsulate the tone. This isn’t a film about fear - in other words a pure horror film - rather it’s a fantasy that expects a little amazement on the audiences behalf, much like that of its central characters. (In which case the high quality of the CGI undoubtedly helps.) Certainly, there are scares and they do play their part in the narrative, but writer-director André Øvredal would appear to be far more interested in delving into the mythology and concentrating more fully on those elements. Hence the presence of Jespersen’s character: almost a Bear Grylls or Ray Mears type who offers us, the viewer, a kind of potted survival guide to dealing with trolls. Belief in God is a no-no and will result in instant detection, whilst covering yourself in troll stench will aid immensely. Flashbulbs and UV light should also be kept to hand, and maybe the odd landmine too…
Øvredal indulges his mythology a little further so as to encompass the government cover-up too. Wittily, it’s as tied up in bureaucracy as anything else with troll hunter Jespersen emerging as something of a maverick. The great pleasure in all this is that it produces a monster movie with a bit of depth and a bit of thought behind it. Øvredal hasn’t conceived of Troll Hunter simply as an excuse to bring some vaguely familiar monsters to the big screen - an earlier equivalent being the various Bigfoot-derived flicks of the seventies such as Legend of Boggy Creek, Creature from Black Lake or Snowbeast - he’s done so because he has some interesting ideas. And there’s a lot of fun to be had as the mythology is slowly revealed, both for its inventiveness and its knowingness. Needless to say, we do get a scene involving a bridge and three goats.
Yet whilst all of the ingredients are there, Troll Hunter doesn’t quite fit the comedy template just as it doesn’t quite satisfy as an all-out horror. The film has pace thanks to its mock-documentary syntax: plenty of jump cuts and roughly assembled scenes that always get straight down to business. As said it also has plenty of invention which keeps things permanently engaging. The special effects are constantly impressive and the various troll designs similarly so. I also cannot fault the performances, all of whom clearly see the film as being more than a simple throwaway horror flick. And yet despite all of this, the lack of satisfaction as a horror flick, or indeed as a comedy, prevents Troll Hunter from genuinely standing out. It lacks the more immediate reaction that a more straightforward approach would have arguably created and as such this remains a film which is far easier to admire than it is to love. Nevertheless this remains an impressive one-off and discerning genre fans should certainly seek it out. I feel it would make a particularly good double-bill with another Nordic almost-horror fantasy, Jalmari Helander’s Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.
Troll Hunter is available now on DVD and Blu-ray from Momentum. The Blu-ray was supplied for review purposes and it is this edition which will be considered below. The bottom line is that we’re dealing with a very good presentation. Admittedly it’s hard to be sure with a film that utilises plenty of shaky camerawork, heavy focus shifts, odd bits of grainy digital imagery and even a bit of night vision in its attempts to replicate found documentary footage. But when we are dealing with intentionally crisp images then the results are wonderful: plenty of detail, superb colours, no additional issues as a result of the film’s transfer. As such it’s hard to imagine that any ‘flaws’ are anything more than intentional. Of course, given the mock documentary nature of the film, it’s also highly unlikely that you’ll be using the disc to show of the capabilities of high definition.
The soundtrack comes in both original Norwegian and English-dubbed options with a choice of both English and English HOH subtitles. The latter is no doubt present owing to Troll Hunter’s likely appeal to more general horror/genre audiences. Both come in DTS-HD 5.1 format and both sound pretty much as you’d expect to the extent where, unsurprisingly, the English option cannot help but feel a little artificial. Arguably there’s a little of that in the Norwegian option too as the sound effects whenever a troll is on the rampage do sound a bit more impressive than our onscreen filmmakers’ equipment could possibly manage! With that said, as with the quality of CG, it cannot help but bring the creations a little more to life. (And, after all, we are dealing with fantasy so any quibbles regarding the reality of the film are going to come across as a little redundant.)
Unfortunately the extras are mostly so-so. There are quite a few additions in place, but nothing feels particularly essential. The four deleted scenes (totalling three-and-a-half minutes) and three extended scenes (totalling eight minutes) were clearly cut for pacing reasons, though it’s good to have the chance to see them. The two-minute blooper reel is expectedly lightweight as are the VFX breakdowns which simply shows the different layers of animation and design without the explanation. Two featurettes also find a place, the first - from HDNet - is standard EPK fluff, whilst the second is actually a collection of miniature pieces (which can be viewed individually) which make up a 24-minute running time. Here we find on-set interviews, behind the scenes footage and the like with the expected focus on make-up, special effects and the odd explosion. Also present are a pair of photo galleries dedicated to the troll designs and the theatrical trailer.