Trolly Madly Deeply

[Film] Troll Hunter

Based on that hoariest of current cinematic tropes, the ‘found footage’ documentary, Troll Hunter soon establishes itself as a cut above other shaky-cam atrocities such as The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and, most recently, Apollo 18.

The story is a simple one. A group of college students are making a documentary about a mysterious loan ‘poacher’, Hans, who patrols the mountains and fjords of Norway alone. Hans reluctantly agrees to let the trio of pepsters follow him around the country, and they are soon drawn into a world of mythical creatures, saliva baths, and shady government cover-ups.

The trolls, it seems, are the most unwelcome thing to be found lurking under the bridge since Anthony Kiedis scribbling gibberish lyrics in his moleskine, and the TSS (Troll Security Service) employ former naval commander Hans to keep the trolls in their territory and kill any who escape, in order to protect the populous. The reason soon becomes clear as these trolls aren’t the leprechaun-like figures of folklore, but 50ft high foreign tourist-gobbling monsters, and the TSS – basically like the militant wing of the Norwegian Tourist Board – want to keep that shit on the downlow as the Norwegian economy can’t survive on staycationing and Fair Isle knits alone.

Despite occasionally playing out like a Norse version of Scooby Doo (Scooby Dü?), there are nonetheless some genuinely scary moments. The most effective of these are early in the film when the monsters have yet to be seen and their presence is signified by the foreboding stomping of feet and juddering Norse pines. The opening chase in particular is heart-poundingly tense. The trolls, when they do finally appear are a surprisingly realistically (if that isn’t too oxymoronic in this context) rendered, wonderfully varied bunch, although some of them do look suspiciously like ‘roided-up Fraggles.

What sets this film apart from those mentioned above is that the naturalistic form is only secondary to the dramatic function. Proving that realism and entertainment  needn’t always be mutually exclusive, it’s tightly plotted, has well-rounded characters and a compelling narrative arc. Played with deadpan brilliance by Otto Jespersen, Hans is an initially stoic presence, but during the course of events we get to learn more about him, the folklore with which his life has become entwined, and the reasons he’s become so disenfranchised with his solitary occupation. The mock-doc theatrics never get in the way of the story unfolding and the nausey camerawork was kept to a bare minimum, though the running commentary was only really a device for establishing quickly and simply what the hell was going on, and quite frankly, the film would have been served just as well without it.

Undoubtedly the strongest parts of the film – along with the breathtaking Norwegian landscape – were the confrontations with the trolls and the performance of Jespersen. A charmingly shambolic figure in his beat-up Land Rover (I know, you’d think he’d drive a Fjord), armed with only lo-fi UV weaponry, his face-offs with his nemeses are brilliantly played and executed, ending with them either being turned to stone or an explosion of entrails. They’re a proper irascible lot, and they loathe being exposed to sunlight even more than a Belle And Sebastian fan on the beach at All Tomorrow’s Parties.

And although the plot was a fairly bog-standard monster hunt, this was far from a point and run affair; if you look hard enough there are actually hidden depths. Read into it however much you want, but through the stories Hans tells of the origins of the TSS the film can easily be read as an allegory for the perils of segregation in society (yeah, I just got totally Shami Chakrabati on yer ass). Equally, it seems to be suggested that the reason the mountain trolls are so pissed off is because of a lack of access to adequate healthcare provision. *Paging Michael Moore*

As is often the case with these types of film, the only thing that really did suffer was the dialogue. ‘Naturalistic’ needn’t necessarily be a synonym for ‘dull’ or ‘meandering’ but this did fall into that trap at times. There was some amusing interplay between the characters and Hans had a few brooding monologues, but in general the script could be described as functional. But hey, this isn’t my post on the curse of naturalistic drama and how ‘real just got shit’ – I’ll save that for another time. And there were enough laughs present for any LOL Hunters out there, mostly at the expense of bumbling government officials, credulous members of the public, and the mundane everyday bureaucracy that even a Troll Hunter has to endure.

If I was being well nitpicky (which of course I am) the pace dragged a bit in the middle and the ending felt a bit hurried and unsatisfactory. But overall this was a deliriously entertaining romp with plenty of show-stopping set pieces and a great central performance at its heart. Compared to some of the damp action farts emanating from Hollywood that I’ve had to hold my nose at of late, this was a real breath of fresh air. I could even say that Scandinavian cinema is really on a troll, but I would never be so cheap.

All in all I’ve decided to give naturalistic cinema another chance – Cinema Verity can move her shit back in. For now.

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