“They are not bright. They manage to eat. But how hard is it to survive on rocks?”
Almost as soon as it was released in the UK it was announced that Troll Hunter was going to be getting the now expected English-language remake. As of September 2013 writer-director Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent) was linked to the film, admittedly making it a slightly more appealing venture, but quite frankly Hitchcock himself could be on board and it would still be an utterly pointless project. Fortunately there seems to be no recent information on IMDb, suggesting the remake has been ditched – fingers crossed. If people can’t be bothered to read the subtitles, then they can just miss out on this little genre gem.
Like many of the “found footage” films of recent years, Troll Hunter takes the realistic medium and adds a supernatural twist. Echoing so many films that have gone before (the horror genre in particular is over-saturated with cheap, shaky hand-cam found footage movies), opening titles inform the viewer that what they are about to see is some of 200-plus hours of footage shot by a small group of students. This proviso also handily explains why the film is so neatly edited – dead time is missing, and the pace (unlike so many inferior films of the genre) is quick, because someone has helpfully compiled all the stock into a palatable movie. And then it begins: three college kids, Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), the announcer, seen most often on the screen, Johanna (Johanna Mørck), in charge of capturing sound, and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen), the cameraman are out in the rugged wilderness of the Norwegian countryside apparently trying to shoot a film about bear poaching. Having spoken to some of the official bear hunters, it becomes evident that someone else is also on the hunt – a mysterious poacher with a ramshackle old caravan and a grumpy disposition. Initially reluctant to speak on camera, this gruff individual – Hans (Otto Jespersen) – eventually allows the trio to follow him on what turns out to be his troll hunting expeditions.
There’s so much to like about Troll Hunter. Despite its genre title and the overwhelming potential to be another disappointing, annoying, cheap found footage flick, it’s smart, dry, and expertly made, with some good jumpy moments and a healthy dash of humour. Poor Hans, Norway’s only troll hunter, finally agrees to be filmed not because he’s been caught out, but because he’s sick of all the bureaucracy and the lack of employment benefits – he doesn’t even get paid unsociable hours, despite being out hunting trolls every night. It’s a thankless job, and he’s sick of it. Like a troll-hunting Van Helsing, he works tirelessly to keep Norway safe and, although we find out very little about him, he seems to be a rather complex individual – worn out and tired of the bloodshed, yet unable to retire. In contrast, the kids – who we follow throughout the film – are excellent substitutes for the viewer: mildly irritating at the beginning, because of their doggedness more than anything, then suitably incredulous as Hans first comes rushing through the woods screaming, “Troooooooollll!” moments before something destroys their car and eats their tyres, then excited to be the ones documenting such a scoop.
And what a scoop it is. Also distinguishing it from the other cheap horror movies, Troll Hunter doesn’t shy away from showing its spectacle and, when the trolls are shown, they’re utterly delightful. They look exactly how trolls should look – depending on their breed, they’re furry, hairy, gigantic, have comically stupid-looking faces with bulbous potato-noses, yet still manage to look fearsome. As Hans says, they’re not the brightest creatures, but they’re still dangerous – particularly the ones the group are coming up against here, who seem to be acting especially erratically. It’s here also that it becomes so evident that a remake is pointless, because the trolls are so firmly embedded in Norwegian culture. The craggy, desolate but beautiful landscape has been shaped by the trolls – rocky patches of land are the result of feuding trolls throwing boulders at each other, for example. I’m sure native audiences would pick up on many more references, but even non-Norwegians ought to be familiar with some of the fairy tales mentioned in the film – there’s a clear reference to Three Billy Goats Gruff, for instance. There are also some interesting modern variations on classic themes – Hans warns the trio that they mustn’t believe in God, because trolls can smell the blood of a Christian man, yet later on no one is sure what will happen when a Muslim joins the group. It’s a wonderfully light touch, pointing out the flaws in local legends and pointing to the increased multiculturalism today (has anyone dealt with this in a vampire context, by the way? Would, for example, Indian vampires still fear the cross?!)
I’ve never been much of a fan of the found footage films – having had to watch far too many straight-to-DVD movies of the type for review purposes (like this one, or this), I’ve long tired of the shoddy, stomach-churning incoherence and unsatisfactory conclusions that dominate the style. Yet Troll Hunter stands apart from these shoddy disappointments: it’s great fun, clever and, unlike so many of the inferior examples, it truly delivers. By the end, I was completely sold: obviously there are trolls in Norway. Even the prime minister said so.