October Horrorshow: Trollhunter, or, The Troll Hunter…Whatever

I have to admit, I’m getting pretty sick of found footage horror films. The technique was unique for only a small handful of films, but it crossed into gimmick very quickly. I don’t seek out these films. To prepare for the October Horrorshow, a lot of times I’ll just grab whatever is currently popular for rent or whatever has made a splash in the last few years. This has led me to watch Quarantine, Grave Encounters, The Last Exorcism, Paranormal Activity, Apollo 18, Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, The Tunnel, REC, many, many others, and now, Trollhunter.

These days, watching so many found footage horror flicks is a bit like being a connoisseur of fast food burgers. Sure, there are some good ones out there, but you have to shove down a whole lot of big macs and junior whoppers in your quest to find one. Flashes of grilled perfection are found in too few breaks in the normal routine of noxious, artery-clogging, commodity fare that does naught more than fill both bellies and graves. Real love and care are not just offset, but dominated by the work of hucksters who would prefer a person not think too much about how they are feeding both mind and body. Why would a person subject themselves to this? Dear reader, I do it for you. I do it…for you.

Trollhunter, a Norwegian film first released in 2010, is a found footage horror flick, an entry in the big monster subgenre. Oh, fuck me.

But, unlike so much of the films that have beaten me down these last few years, Trollhunter is a good movie. I’m not convinced that being found footage was necessary, or made it any better, but it least it wasn’t a contrivance. Rather, I can give it the highest compliment possible for any found footage flick I watch these days: I don’t care that it is found footage. I really don’t. It didn’t distract, it didn’t interfere, and I didn’t want to strangle the jerk holding the camera.

Written and directed by André Øvredal, Trollhunter tells the story of a small group of college students who set out to make a documentary about a nighttime bear poacher, and instead stumble upon Hans (Otto Jespersen). Hans, of course, could give a toss about bears. He hunts trolls. At this point, the movie becomes very Norwegian. Trolls apparently have a long and storied history in Norwegian mythology, something that American audiences just don’t share. The trolls’ appearances are a mish-mash of horrific and cartoonish, as the trolls maintain a balance between what modern moviegoers expect from monsters, and what the mythmakers of the past put down in rhyme and illustration. The names of the trolls are outrageous, a direct line to Norway’s past, and something a viewer could expect to find in a Harry Potter novel. There’s the Ringlefinch, the Tosslerad, the Jotnar, and my favorite-named, the Mountain King. It’s all very kitschy in a way. There’s even a scene with a troll under a bridge.

Trollhunter doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s difficult to explain, but it’s a lighthearted, dark film. I haven’t seen anything quite like this before. This might be due to the fact the film is loaded with jokes and references only a Norwegian would get, apparently. In fact, a good deal of the cast are famous comedians in that country. For this American viewer, there wasn’t a thing to laugh at in the film, but it’s not because the jokes fall flat. They just completely went over my head.

As the college students accompany Hans on his troll hunting activities, we learn that trolls are a serious threat to Norwegian national security, and that Hans is no loner, out hunting trolls for his amusement. Oh, no. He’s duly employed by the state. This frisson of conspiracy is always there throughout the film, but it never becomes a fully developed aspect of the plot, making it, like the found footage, expendable. Other than that, the story is very well put together. The budget kept the trolls from filling up all the available screen time, which meant Øvredal was forced to explore some other, more important aspects of filmmaking, such as plot and character development. In this, he mostly succeeded. Mostly. The film threatens to fly off in tangents at different points, introducing a dangerous amount of unresolved plot elements. At times it can feel like Øvredal was only playing at making a film, throwing whatever he could at the audience to see what would stick by the time his budget ran out, but that is unfair.

Although never a completely tight package, Trollhunter is not the jumbled mess it threatens to become. It’s just a fun film from the top of the world.