We’re firmly back in the ‘found footage’ genre once again with Troll Hunter, the story of three intrepid students on the hunt for what they believe initially to be a bear poacher. A large group of registered hunters have massed in a remote part of Norway after a bear carcass is found, which all swear they did not kill. The film makers get a tip off about one potential suspect, Hans – a virtual recluse who lives in a caravan and has been seen in the area recently. They track down Hans, who refuses all attempts to be interviewed. Undeterred, the team agree to stalk him, following on one of his late night “hunting” trips. However, what Hans is hunting is something far more dangerous than bears.
From the title of the film, you’ll likely have guessed what Hans is after (it’s a troll). Unfortunately, the film drags this mystery out for a good 20 minutes or more before the ‘big reveal’. Had the movie been given a more opaque title and marketing campaign, this could have been a really effective opening, leaving us in doubt as to the true nature of the story. Sadly, the “real” film makers chose to go in a different direction removing all tension from this section. I say “real” so as not to confuse them with the documentary film maker characters shown on screen. The opening titles try to give a suggestion of reality to proceedings but this goes out of the window once the first troll appears on screen. To their credit, the fully CGI creatures are excellently realised on what must have been a very small budget and (cleverly) almost always shown at night, but they are never fully convincing. Of course, no one believes found footage films are real any more anyway (if they ever did, The Blair Witch Project aside), so none of this should been seen as direct criticism, but rather small gripes against an otherwise well-made film.
The success or failure of the film largely depends on two things – your patience for the hand held formula and your prior knowledge of the myths surrounding Trolls. A lot of the fun can be had from the way the film builds or disproves certain fairy tales, but if you’re unfamiliar with the original idea, then the build-up and payoff don’t work as well. For example, I had not heard the “I smell the blood of a Christian man” tale (only being familiar with the Giant who cried “I smell the blood of an Englishman”) so one of the films central plot points (and best gags) doesn’t work as well for me. It’s not a significant issue but I can’t escape the feeling that someone more versed in the myths and stores of these creatures will get more of a kick from the film than I did. On a more positive note, the narrative does well to justify that everything that does occur would be filmed. I have no real problem with this fully hand held “real-life” style of film making (unlike a friend of mine who gets travel sickness if he watches frantic action scenes from this genre) but any film attempting this style needs to fully justify in its narrative why those involved didn’t just drop the camera and run. TrollHunter never falls in the traps that impacted films such as Cloverfield and hence believable maintains this conceit throughout, even in the dramatic finale.
The performances are strong right through the cast, with all managing to hit the naturalistic style so important to maintaining the illusion of the found footage. The three students: Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Mørck) and Kelle (Tomas Alf Larsen) are central to all that happens and not once do they betray the reality of the scene. This is obviously helped significantly by the fact that no one in the film was known to me as an actor; whether the same is also true for a Norwegian audience I can’t say. I understand one exception is the actor playing Hans (Otto Jespersen) who is well known in his native land as a comedian, actor and television personality. How his performance plays to those familiar with his previous work would be interesting to find out, but for me, he is note perfect as the world weary hunter: always suspicious of the film makers but more than happy to finally lift the lid on the clandestine world he’s been forced to live in. The only other major role is given to Hans Morten Hansen, who plays the bumbling government bureaucrat Finn Haugen. He adds just the right level of humour in his increasingly desperate attempts to shut up Hans and censor the film crew.
TrollHunter does many things well. It captures the atmosphere of the found footage genre right from the get go and managed to sustain it throughout the increasingly bizarre events. By the time the film makers are heading up to the remote mountains to look for a giant troll, you’re along for the ride. A very clever coda involving the actual president of Norway cements what is a well-made and entertaining film.
Perhaps there’s a market for the ‘found footage’ of the Jaded Eye podcast? It would definitely be a horror film