With its folkloric hellions and scatological asides, André Øvredal’s mockumentary of Northern frights, Troll Hunter, can’t quite decide if it’s horror or comedy.
Norwegian Mood by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Like Finnish director Jalmari Helander’s Santa-themed kiddy-frightener Rare Exports, André Øvredal takes something quintessentially Scandinavian and turns it into a horror movie. Here, trolls are no longer cutesy little fairytale figurines, but murderous man-killers. The land of fjords the scenic backdrop for a team of documentary filmmakers investigating bear trapping and who get more than they bargain for when they stumble upon the eponymous Troll Hunter played by comedian Otto Jespersen. While its pseudo-vérité found footage preface may provoke a smile, the dry humour of this mockumentary may sometimes keep us guessing, is this a low budget horror like The Blair Witch Project or something altogether more sinister?
Reinventing the troll as a horror staple, Troll Hunter certainly knows the rules of the game. Like the werewolf’s silver bullet or the vampire’s stake through the heart, the troll lives and dies by certain rules, lifted wholesale from a tome of Norwegian folktales. For example, trolls can only be killed by sunlight, when they either explode or turn to stone, a myth gloriously explained away by an awkward vet as an inability to process vitamin D, which calcifies their veins. While the trolls’ fairytale counterparts may traditionally live in castles and get along fairly peaceably with their story’s fictional heroes, Troll Hunter‘s oversized rabid giants rampage across mountain and forest leaving nothing but a slimy trail of destruction behind them. But the film is rich in troll lore, and while lots of it will go over non-Norwegian heads, others, like the tale of Billy Goats Gruff with its bridge-dwelling troll and bleating goats, are comic gems appreciable by all.
The trait that’s perhaps most striking in the film is the trolls’ ability to ‘smell the blood of a Christian man’. While for English eyes and ears this may recall the giant’s fee-fi-fo-fum in Jack And The Beanstalk (a fairytale that came across with the Vikings) this magical ability is reserved for trolls in Norwegian folklore, the last guardians of pagan magic. And while Christian cameraman Kalle is eventually snapped up by one of the trolls, Troll Hunter isn’t really anti-Christian, its religious inflection just a remnant of its folklore inception. Both Johanna and Malica are killed at the hands of Norway’s Troll Security Service. The state infinitely more terrifying than the trolls.
With its hordes of Jotnars, Ringlefinchs and Tosserlads, Troll Hunter mixes digital footage of the intrepid troll-chasing film crew with its CGI sequences well enough. But these ogres just aren’t scary enough to make it into horror legend, their slime and flatulence more comic than terrifying. To start with, there’s an enjoyable tension as the film teeters on the brink between horror comedy and comic horror. But then the spell is broken – it’s neither. In fact, Troll Hunter works best as a satire on conspiracy theory, as cattle corpses are rather spuriously blamed by Norway’s Troll Security Service on lost Siberian bears. There are other nice touches too like the electricity board’s inexplicably pointless ring of electricity pylons in the Dovre region, with apparently no other purpose than to keep the Jotnars in. Or the low-tech bear-track replicator made from paws on sticks. And while the Polish decorator almost steals the show with his take on the interchangeability of dead Croatian bears, the final coup de théâtre is a real-life press conference in which Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg publicly admits to Norway’s problem with trolls. An excerpt which provides the perfect metaphor for Ovredal’s film, deliciously hanging between misconstrued fact and digitally enhanced fiction.
Filled with all the necessary bumps and slimy spills of the genre, Troll Hunter is rollicking good fun. Its trolls are convincing enough, just too trite to make the hairs stand on end. But the lead actors give great performances, their enduring terror keeping any niggling doubts at the far-fetched plot out of sight. Only the script lets them down, at times cringeworthy as each troll reference is duly and unimaginatively signposted. And when the story has nowhere else to go but onto slaying more trolls, Troll Hunter slowly and inevitably deflates. Like Thomas’s troll bite, or the troll hunter’s disappearance into the horizon, ultimately the film leads nowhere. But it’s still a great tongue-in-cheek Scandinavian romp that puts the earnest pseudo-snuff tendencies of the horror genre humorously in their place.
Troll Hunter is released on 9th September 2011 in the UK