Troll Hunter, directed by André Øvredal, follows in the mockumentary footsteps of The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity. The odd thing about all those American iterations of the idea (spoof verité footage with a fantastical intrusion from beyond) is how irritating the whiny characters are. Do American filmmakers assume that ‘real people’ are inherently dumb and annoying?
The Norwegians, thankfully, seem fonder of their characters, although admittedly in-depth characterisation isn’t something Troll Hunter concerns itself with. Instead we get understated, deadpan performances, especially from the titular employee of Troll Security Services, Otto Jespersen, an admirably gruff portrayal of a working Joe who decides, more or less on a whim, to blow off the lid of state secrecy concealing from the Norwegian public the existence of gigantic, boulder-eating monsters who can smell the blood of a Christian man…
(For the film’s nearest ancestor, do check out Zak Penn’s Incident at Loch Ness, in which Werner Herzog goes in search of the monster of the loch - and finds it…)
Øvredal’s scenario isn’t exactly bursting with ideas, but it does play imaginatively with its single premise, postulating an ecology and rough social order for its monsters, and exploring just how and why the Norwegian state has managed to keep the public in ignorance (until now). To its credit, the film never gets caught up in trying to make this absurd conceit plausible, and derives a lot of enjoyment from the bare-faced silliness of it all.
The trolls themselves are rather splendid: their design is unapologetically comical, with phallic noses and Highland cow fur for the Mountain Kings, and equally gross and cartoony anatomies for the other sub-species we encounter. But the night vision photography and shaky-cam aesthetic allow these preposterous mooncalves to be cunningly incorporated into the surrounding film, making up in photographic verisimilitude what they signally lack in dignity and credibility. The script cunningly weaves in every ‘fact’ and situation you’re likely to recall from children’s tales, right down to a cameo appearance by the Three Billy Goats Gruff.
Very handsomely photographed amid spectacular Norwegian scenery, all looming mountains and misty meres, Troll Hunter seems destined for cult status, and its likeable, easy-going approach doesn’t outstay its welcome. Enjoy it before the inevitable sequels and Hollywood remake sully its memory.