12 September 2011


The found-footage trend shows no sign of decline, with Paranormal Activity seemingly becoming the heir apparent to Saw as a multiplex fixture around Halloween time, and two new releases in the sub-genre in the last two weeks. While Apollo 18 disappointed, Troll Hunter arrives in the UK with so much positive, it's practically a fan favourite already.

As is the manner of found-footage films, our heroes are student filmmakers from the University of Vorda. They're making a documentary in rural Norway, with all of the country's licenced bear hunters mystified by the sudden spate of illegal bear-killings. They suspect a poacher, and the mysterious Hans seems to fit the bill. Following him into the woods at the middle of the night, they catch him in the act of hunting trolls, whose existence is covered up by the Norwegian government.

At this stage, found-footage seems pretty much spent. Now, I am looking forward to the final two [REC] films, and I'm unwilling to rule out the possibility that someone will do something interesting with it. But Apollo 18 signalled, to me, that we've reached the stage where filmmakers are using it as a shortcut to suspend the audience's disbelief, and I suspect the Hollywood industry will wear the format out fully around the time of Paranormal Activity 5, if they even get that far. There's nothing so lazy about Troll Hunter, which is bold and funny and inventive, in a way that's only obstructed by the fact that it's a found-footage film.

The central conceit modernises trolls, drawing on folklore in a similar way to another Scandinavian treat, last year's Rare Exports. All of their mythical trappings are brought up to the present too- they hang around in caves and under bridges, they're all but allergic to sunlight, and they can sniff out Christian blood. In a modern context, there's a question of whether their rather phallic noses can also smell out the blood of other faiths, which should give you some idea of the social awareness and wit that's applied in what is essentially a fantasy film.

The film also puts a lot of work into its eponymous troll hunter, Hans, played by Norwegian comedian and actor Otto Jespersen. Hans is one of the most stone-cold awesome motherfuckers to cross a cinema screen this year, built as an all-but fearless character who trudges through Norway, carrying out his thankless job at the behest of bureaucrats and shady government agents. The whole impetus for the film is in his final "fuck you" to authority- dishing the dirt to these students, in the hope that troll management will progress. He's virtually unflappable, and Jespersen plays it brilliantly.

The supporting characters are less well-developed. The characters behind the camera are never hugely characterised in these films, with the exception of Hud in Cloverfield, and the student characters- Thomas, Johanna, Kalle and Malica- are distinctly lacking in personality. Even though all of them appear on camera variously, this way of telling the story makes them ciphers in the process of Hans' tale. A couple of neat twists come out of their presence, but they're overshadowed by both Hans and the bloody massive trolls.

Ultimately, I found that the format really just got under the film's feet. I don't even particularly dislike found-footage films, and I even enjoy the hell out of some of them, but this scenario is so well thought out, a more traditional feature would have been more than welcome. Norwegian audiences probably reacted better than anyone to Troll Hunter, for the same reason as a British version would be most effective with a UK audience; because to them, it's home, and it's familiar. Elsewhere in the world, it's easier to notice the trademark mistakes that can be made with the format.

At one point, sound girl Johanna and her trusty boom mic are separated from the group, and yet the sound we hear is with the group. And there's the fatal "second camera" syndrome, in which we suddenly cut to footage from a camera that doesn't belong to anyone. This quibble happens in the middle of what is otherwise a gripping chase sequence, and it took me right out of the action. And to give credit where it's due, there is one more particularly good setpiece that proves director André Øvredal is more than capable of out-gunning his Hollywood counterparts.

Troll Hunter sets up an entertaining and amusing vision of a bureaucracy that has anti-social monsters galumphing right through it. The film would never put a foot wrong, were it not for the fact that found-footage feels two sizes too small, for all the ideas it's got going. And so it stumbles, particularly in the scenes between troll encounters. With its imaginative, romping humour, and a brilliant performance by Otto Jespersen, it's still a delightful and peculiar fantasy action film that should be enjoyed by all.

Troll Hunter is now showing in select cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Troll Hunter, why not share your comments below? The planned English language remake, helmed by Chris Columbus, can only be worse, so it's frustrating to see where this one falls short.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

1 comment:

junkpunk said...

HI, cool blog, and really interesting to see what you thought of this film. I liked the hand-filmed approach of film, it helped to tell the story and make it feel authentic, but the 'found-footage' bit did seem a little unoriginal for such an unusual film.

Oh, and I've started a new film blog, any opinions and input is really welcome. I'm going to post all my favourite trailers on there too :)

The Film Trolls: Cult films blog :)