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At The Movies: Troll Hunter (or, who’s coming to Norway with us?)

2011 September 26

I went to a healthfood shop today and bought NATURE SNACKS. Now, I don’t normally go into healthfood shops because I can’t understand their pitch. What’s all this marketing to people’s paranoia and fears about their bodies? Why do I go in and get a copy of HEALTH magazine in my face, adorned with a willowy, glowing woman telling me to lose weight and eat seeds? What’s all that about? I think they market their wares wrong. Instead of telling us to EAT FRUIT OUT OF FEAR OF FATNESS OR SIN, they should be all, MOTHERFUCKING NATURE SNACKS!! LOOK, THEY’RE MADE OUT OF TREES AND SHIT!!! EAT THESE AND BECOME KING OF THE FUCKING ELVES!!!!

Troll Hunter, though, gets its pitch exactly right. “TROLL HUNTER!!!” shouts the poster, in yellow, with a gritty picture of Hans The Troll Hunter’s well-defended Land Rover driving towards the legs of a truly gigantic troll. That’s what we like to see. Gets straight to the point. This is a film about a man who hunts trolls, and the trolls aren’t fucking around. That’s what it is.

A black-bordered image of a armoured vehicle driving towards a collossal, lumpen troll.  The troll dwarfs the car.  The tagline is 'You'll believe it when you see it!' and the title, TROLL HUNTER, is in large yellow letters underneath. Image via Wikipedia, shared under Fair Use guidelines.

That tagline, guys.

Now, I’d read a few précis of André Øvredal‘s film before I went to see it, which is something I generally avoid doing because I like to go to a film all clean of bias, but it would have been hard to remove my firmly-lodged desire to see this film, because fuck I love monsters. All the opinions I’d read started with something like, “I didn’t expect this to be hand-held-camera Blair Witch mockumentary style!” so naturally, I expected that.

However, given that information, I expected it to be a horror film about some kids who make a film about trolls.

It’s not. It’s a film about trolls.

It is literally a film all about trolls. It’s not even a horror film about trolls. It’s just about trolls. You get to know about all the different sorts of troll, how long they live, what they eat, how long their gestation period is, and what they like to do with car tyres. It’s also a sensitive portrait of the hunter, Hans (Otto Jespersen), and his lifelong symbiotic relationship with them and their territorial warfare. He’s sort of like the stoic, outdoorsy, very smelly grandpa you always wanted. He’s not your typical big, ripply, macho action hero. He’s like a grumpy, landmine-collecting Sir David Attenborough. With a beard. And landmines. I found myself, as the credits rolled to In The Hall Of The Mountain King, wanting to go to Norway immediately and try and find him and look at trolls with him.

The whole film runs, as you can imagine from something that’s shot on a hand-held camera ostensibly by film students, completely devoid of soundtrack, but that somehow makes it more immediate, more intimate: it’s peppered with little details that make it feel very real, and all the people in it less like characters that have been written and cast, but more like ordinary people, with their own failings and idiosyncrasies.  To illustrate this I need to give a mild spoiler away, so skip the rest of this paragraph if you’re invested in being entirely spoiler free! In the first troll chase, the sound techie girl (Johanna Mørck) is lost, and we presume her dead, having possibly been eaten by a ten-foot-tall troll. But she emerges from the forest, wild-eyed and grinning, practically crying with delight that the fairy-tale monsters are really real.1 She’s neither mangled, nor screaming, nor in need of comfort, rescue or first-aid – she’s absolutely thrilled, and still clutching her boom mike. For a film that’s all about monsters and the man that hunts them, this is a very human film.

It’s also hilarious, which was another thing I wasn’t expecting. I laughed like an audience-disturbing drain at some points (seriously, never go to see a film with me, I’m awful) and clapped like a delighted child at others (see? awful). The humour and humanity help it feel true, which in turn makes the danger feel really dangerous and the tension feel really tense. It’s deeply engrossing for it.

The only thing is, it’s so different from any other film currently on offer – and indeed different from similar shaky-cam freak-fests that preceded it (hello, Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, I’m looking at you) – that it might take some viewers a little while to get into. You have to adapt. You don’t really watch it the same way that you usually watch films. It helps by giving you a soundtrack-free plain text introduction to the film as being a collection of recordings anonymously dropped off at a studio, which certainly got me into the right mindset, but your mileage may vary.

Basically, this is what’d happen if I was told to make a horror film about werewolves. It’d just end up as a film about werewolves and what they do. This is a film, then, that is about trolls and what they do. It will make you want to go and look at trolls. (But don’t go if you’re a Christian because they can smell you.)

Three people, one pale-skinned white-haired lady in a sweater, staring into the distance; one dark-skinned man with a half-shaven head and tattoos, holding a large net; and a muscular, hairy red-haired man with dreadlocks, squatting on the floor and pointing excitedly at some troll tracks.  They are labelled 'Vodouisant', 'Cultist of Yog-Sothoth' and 'Hopes Zelda counts as relevant experience' respectively.  The image is titled 'The ideal multi-faith troll-hunting team'.

Not pictured: the Jainist cameraman.

YOU SHOULD SEE THIS FILM BECAUSE:

  • It’s all about the monsters and how they fit into human life, and if you like monsters, folklore and learning about different cultures, you’ll love it
  • It’s pretty much unique in its combination of how it’s shot and what it offers
  • It’s really, unexpectedly funny
  • The people feel real, solid and …people-y
  • TROLLS!!!!!!!

YOU SHOULD NOT SEE THIS FILM BECAUSE:

  • I don’t know, you might take exception to the recurring theme of them being able to smell (and liking to eat) Christians
  • Shaky-cam doesn’t agree with everyone (I found it challenging to watch in parts)
  • I might be in the cinema, periodically shrieking and weeping and no-one needs that
  1. This bit made me cry. WHO’S SURPRISED :D []
13 Responses leave one →
  1. Terri permalink
    September 26, 2011

    Oh wow, I really want to see this film now!

    • Markgraf permalink
      September 26, 2011

      I am distressed to see that it’s already purged from the face of my hometown’s cinemas! Go with speed, I can’t recommend it enough.

  2. fragmentary permalink
    September 26, 2011

    Man, I wish shaky cam didn’t make me sick.

    • Markgraf permalink
      September 26, 2011

      I normally get awful motion sickness from shaky cam (FUCK YOU, CLOVERFIELD) but was surprised when this one wasn’t too bad. But your mileage may vary, of course.

  3. September 26, 2011

    Seriously, it took me SO LONG to adapt to the fact that it’s not a horror movie! Once I did, I realised it was awesome, but I was so confused for the first 45 minutes or so. Now I’m telling everyone who says they want to see it that it’s not a horror movie – but they should totally see it! – and they don’t believe me. They’re like “but, trolls. Thus, horror movie.”

    • Markgraf permalink
      September 26, 2011

      The moment that won me over was when Hans charged down the hill yelling TTRRRRROOOOOLLLLLLLLL!!!!!

      • September 26, 2011

        Haha, yeah. I think the bit where I really realised that yes, this is meant to be funny, and it’s okay to laugh, and it’s not a horror movie was… maybe when the Polish guys turned up with the bear? Or when Hans pointed to his collection of Factor 50 sunscreens.

        • Markgraf permalink
          September 26, 2011

          OH MY GOD THE POLISH BEAR VENDORS! Best characters in anything, ever. I want them to be added as walk-ins to everything from now on.

          • Epidot permalink
            December 28, 2011

            Robert Stoltenberg – I believe is his name. The Polish Bear poacher that is.

  4. Karohemd permalink
    September 26, 2011

    I absolutely agree with this film, it was a joy. I even considered writing a Troll Hunter RPG because there was so much background info there and it would work really well, at least as a one-off.
    Also, if the real-life cameo at the end was really him (not mentioning the name as I don’t want to spoil it), I have even more respect for that man now.

    • Markgraf permalink
      September 26, 2011

      I can neither confirm nor deny the identity of the cameo, because I don’t know for sure myself. But that bit made me whoop with joy in the cinema. WORST AUDIENCE MEMBER EVER.

    • Epidot permalink
      October 6, 2011

      I can confirm it. It was him…but that was another inside joke.

  5. October 2, 2011

    I have got to see this film!

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