Friday, October 31, 2014 07:34

Troll Hunter a.k.a. Trolljegeren (2011)

Monster films, welcome back. We’ve missed you – or at least, I speak for myself here, because as much as I get a lot out of psychological horror, hauntings, and even more gritty fare, I was raised on Ray Harryhausen films. Jason and the Argonauts (1963) was one of my favourite things ever, as were any depictions in film (or of course literature and folklore) of weird creatures…it almost goes without saying that a new movie which makes the most of Scandinavian folklore as the basis for its creatures is really going to have to go some to fuck things up. Rest assured that Troll Hunter (Trolljegeren) doesn’t fuck it up – this is a film which finds fun in going to the distinctly non-sanitisied origin of Norwegian troll legends and giving us an up-to-date run in with not just a troll, but different species of troll. Don’t know your Tosserlads (heh) from your Mountain Kings? Look no further.

When a group of student filmmakers set about tracking what they suppose is an illegal bear hunter (Norway has tight restrictions on how many bears can be killed and by whom) they follow him out one night to see what exactly he’s doing. Turns out his name is Hans, he isn’t an illegit hunter, and he’s actually working on secretive government business (with the appropriate forms to prove it). This cynical bunch might not have believed him, had they not seen what he was doing with their own eyes…

Having got this far, Hans begrudgingly agrees that they can keep on filming. He’s sick of the dirty, difficult work and fed up of the secrecy, so he offers for them to get as much footage as they need to prove that trolls exist. All they have to do in return is follow all his instructions. This footage comprises the film itself…

The ‘found footage’ idea is definitely blooming in cinema these days – look anywhere and you’ll see people moaning about it as well, so filmmakers opting to use this format might want to tread carefully if they don’t want to lose their potential audience from the offset. In Troll Hunter, thankfully, it isn’t too obtrusive. Yes, you get people running and plenty of footage of their shoes, but by and large the film is easy to watch and not migraine-inducing through overusing the worst element in found footage - wildly-spinning cameras. It helps that the characters are good, there’s a firm sense of fun (plus that subtle Norwegian sense of humour) and – best of all – the creatures themselves are brilliant.

Director André Øvredal knows just how much to reveal and when to use suggestion, darkness and motion, but don’t take that to imply that you never see the creatures – you do, and hallelujah, CGI is finally starting to get to the point where it really works well. If this film was made on hand-held cameras simply to blow the budget on the effects then I think it’s more than justifiable. Added to this is a genuine sense of pride – expressed in a light-hearted way, but pride nonetheless – in Norwegian folklore. You can often see the point at which indigenous national/local culture and storytelling became demonised by the arrival of Christianity in any given place: in the United Kingdom, lots of standing stones became ‘Devil’s Needles’ or petrified circles of witches to absorb them into the Christian idea of good/evil and castigate the old beliefs which preceded the new religion. Troll Hunter has a lot of fun with what must be a Norwegian equivalent – that trolls are especially cruel to Christians and loathe Christian music – and turns it into a game where the religious come off worse. Not a huge political point, but it was nice to see it in there. Also, Hans (and the veterinary team supporting his work) might be hunting them, but he has a certain level of respect for these creatures, and would never go after them were it not made necessary by them falling sick or straying too far into human-inhabited areas. There’s a healthy distaste for bureaucracy in here, too…

The final thing to say on this film is, trolls or not, this is the best tourism video for Norway I could imagine, and the backdrop of this strikingly-beautiful country has just made me feel more than ever that I need to see it for myself. It’s a nice secondary note for this gratifying creature feature, one which is definitely worth a look. Also, see this version: Hollywood will get its greasy mitts on this soon and bring out an inferior rehash because people can’t manage bloody subtitles…it’s a Norwegian film set in Norway about Norwegian folklore, and as such this is the real deal.

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