With his faux-documentary, TROLLHUNTER, filmmaker Andre Ovredal has pulled of the difficult trick of adding fantastic elements to reality and make it seem perfectly reasonable. Certainly the evocative landscape of his native Norway, craggy mountains and hushed valleys shrouded in mist and snow, give credence to the idea that trolls really do roam among the fjords wreaking havoc. And the skeptical zeitgeist of the last 40 years gives credence to the idea that the Norwegian government, in an attempt to keep their tourist industry going, has suppressed the truth of their existence. Ovredal has taken it further than a mere conceit, though, crafting a film that while using only the mysterious footage purported to have been taken by gobsmacked college students and left anonymously on a doorstep, is more than a mere monster flick in the BLAIR WITCH vein.
To begin with, he uses the hand-held camera to a distinct advantage, giving a palpable sense of immediacy to the discovery of things hidden by design and forbidden by common sense. There is movement, but none of the egregious fumbling that leads to motion-sickness. The camera is the province of three college students covering the hunt for a bear threatening a small community. The bear is killed, but there are details that dont add up, including that dour man following the hunters, but not possessed of a bear-hunting license. His trailer stinks, his truck looks like its been assaulted by a giant can-opener, and he himself, tall, bearded, and looking like one of Norways craggier mountains, is at least as intimidating as the bears he claims to hunt. Sensing a story, Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud) the on-screen talent, invokes his idol, Michael Moore, and refuses to back off when Hans (Otto Jespersen), the hunter, tells him to. It pays off. Eventually, Hans spins a wild tale of being Norways lone troll hunter, tasked with tracking down the creatures that wander off their preserves, and then making it look like bears.
Hans is sick of the bureaucracy hes forced to deal with. Hes also developed a complicated relationship with the trolls, one that is a lethal precis of humankinds interaction with the natural world. There is a great deal of dry humor here, including the forms Hans is obliged to fill out, as well as the fatuous government functionary (Hans Morten Hansen) with no clue about dealing with trolls, but who does have the final say on how Hans does his job. It does nothing to mitigate the genuine creepiness of interacting with creatures that are powerful, deadly, and none too bright. There is also a sly poke at the modern mindset that prefers the explanation of a genetic experiment gone wrong to a folktale come to life, or a localized tornado to a rampaging troll.
Fresh-faced Tosterud as the audience surrogate gets it just right. The boyish gleam in his eyes as they dart towards the camera after getting footage of a troll. The confusion and genuine hurt when things turn dangerous, or, at one point, gaseous when they discover that trolls have gastro-intestinal distress just like humans.
At first, it may seem that Ovredal has made a mistake in showing a troll only 25 minutes into the film, but that introduction is a necessary prelude to what follows in order to hustle the story along hitting all the right buttons up to and including a conclusion that resonates visually with the adrenalin rush that accompanies it. Many troll species are involved, all rendered with special effects that are not flashy, but are perfect in their very simplicity. They have the proper reality, they are conceived and executed with pungent imagination, right down to the unearthly roar that somehow matches their ungainly motion.
TROLLHUNTER takes swipes as powerful as a trolls but much more focused, at a civilization that seeks to impose its own version of order on the natural world, when that world has shown that can do a better job, or at least one that isnt worse than what humankind comes up with. But that doesnt weigh down the story for a microsecond. Putting the audience through a gauntlet of emotions in quick succession, it is an enthralling story that is also smart, surprising, and wildly fun.