Review of Troll Hunter (dir. André Øvredal, 2010):

Just when I thought I could not stomach another found footage horror film, Troll Hunter comes along and makes me eat my words. Produced in 2010, it has emerged from a mass of vampire and zombie ‘product’ to shine brightly as a beacon of originality.

In a tradition popularised by The Blair Witch Project (1999) but spearheaded by the infamous Cannibal Holocaust (1980), Troll Hunter purports to be the result of chronologically edited, raw footage left on the doorstep of a Norwegian film production company. The days of Blair Witch are well and truly over, so audiences are immediately in on the joke, although the film plays as a poker-faced portrayal of supposed documentary events with humour handled cleverly in an almost incidental manner.

As it goes, students from a local university – armed with video camera – set out to uncover the activities of a mysterious poacher who is believed to be muscling in on bear hunter territory. After hounding this lone ‘ranger’, trolljegeren Hans, they are graciously brought into the fold and granted permission to capture his strange vocation on film, despite the disapproval of the ‘authorities’.

Now, I know as much about Norway as Kurt Russell’s MacReady in The Thing, so there is a curiosity about all things Norwegian that certainly adds to the entertainment value – the snow-capped mountain landscape with fingers of low-hanging cloud, the lyrical yet vaguely obscene language and, of course, the Scandinavian-specific troll legend itself. But Troll Hunter is successful in so many other ways, from the modern wrangling of a fairy-tale myth to the presentation of the trolls themselves.

For purposes of public safety, a troll may (or may not look like this)

Similar to other well-conceived found footage horror films – such as the Spanish zombie flick [REC] (2007) – Troll Hunter uses the inadequacies of guerrilla filmmaking footage to its advantage, largely to obscure the crappiness of any computer-generated imagery and, consequently, create more believable monsters. Computer effects are cheap, which is why we’ve been forced to suffer at their uninspired mercy for 20-odd years now. What the makers of Troll Hunter do is employ a bit of creative thinking, such as green-filtered night vision and wavering camera, to smooth over any chinks in their CGI armour.

Most importantly, the trolls of Troll Hunter are not just roaring, charging, flesh-chomping monsters – they are artfully drawn characters, each with a personality of its own, including strange behavioural quirks and expressions. Through troll hunter Hans – a “Norwegian hero”, as described by one of the student documentarians – we’re given a fascinating reintroduction to troll folklore, including troll varieties such as ‘Ringlefinch’, ‘Tosserlad’, ‘Rimetosser’, ‘Mountain Kings’ and the largest troll of all, the ‘Jotnar’. But, as Hans makes a point of saying, “Fairytales often don’t match reality”.

While an adult horror film from start to finish, Troll Hunter successfully does what few modern horror films do – channel our inner child. The arrival of the first troll on screen literally had me clapping with excitement, which is a rare response these days with, more often than not, sadistic horror flooding the market. To exit a horror movie with a broad smile on your face is quite a rare thing indeed.

Troll Hunter will also have you humming along to Edvard Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ from Peer Gynt before you know it.

More trolls please.

Troll Hunter is available on DVD (Australia) from Madman

Troll Facts & Fiction

  • Sunlight turns them to stone or makes them explode (dependent on age)
  • They’re mammals
  • They only breed one offspring in a lifetime
  • The blood of Christians is particularly attractive to them
  • They are born with one head, but may grow more over time to scare other trolls and attract females
  • They love to gnaw old car tyres
  • They are stupid
  • Average life expectancy is 1000-1200 years
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