APRIL 20, 2011
A lot of movies have better ideas than executions, resulting in a lesser film, but sometimes the idea is so good that it’s easy to overlook some blunders in the final result. The Troll Hunter (Norwegian: Trolljegeren) is one such film; the concept – trolls are very real and it’s up to a burned out government employee to take them out and make sure the populace doesn’t learn about them – is wonderfully silly and yet awesome, and the goodwill it earns was enough for me to more or less forgive its repetitive pacing and questionable implementation of the “found footage” idea.
Personally I don’t think any found footage type movie should run over 85 minutes or so; the best ones (Blair Witch, Rec, etc) are closer to 80. I’m not sure WHY this seems to be the case, but whenever the movie goes outside of this range, it just starts to drag. Troll Hunter runs an hour and forty five minutes, and it could easily lose 20 of those. Granted, the Norwegian scenery is very pretty, but I swear, a third of the movie is just shots of the characters filming themselves driving up and down the coast as they head toward yet another known troll spot. Even the action scenes go on a bit too long; there’s a bit in a cave where they are trying to avoid being detected by a group of smaller trolls, and it just seems to go on forever.
There are a couple of awkward plot points too; such as the introduction of a new cameraman at the top of the 3rd act. Not that their isolation from the rest of the world is an issue here (unlike Blair), but it’s too late in the narrative to be bringing someone else into the fold, and it has no real payoff; the new person doesn’t really have a character moment beyond their initial introduction. And I defy anyone to come up with a reasonable explanation for the seismologist who comes out of nowhere (and seemingly disappears again) during the goddamn climax.
I also caught a number of moments that made no sense within the context of the found footage scenario, such as cuts during conversation that would be impossible to achieve, or cutting to the title character blasting away at a troll instead of a. running the fuck away or b. filming the actual giant troll that’s a few feet away. Who would have that sort of nerve? There’s also a baffling moment where the camera shoots their own vehicle driving far off in the distance – so, what, they dropped someone off to get a nice shot of the car, and then drove back to pick her up? These sort of things just zap me out of the reality of the movie, which is a problem for this particular sub-genre, which lives and dies by how well the filmmakers present the “reality” of their story.
But it’s still a lot of fun, thanks to the dry humor and the bureaucratic, matter-of-fact way that the whole troll hunter world operates, complete with boring forms to fill out and the like. Otto Jespersen as Hans the troll hunter gives a wonderful performance not unlike Tommy Lee Jones’ in Men in Black, where his weary, blunt attitude toward trolls and what he does for a living is far more amusing than it would be if it was being outwardly played for laughs. Hell, he tells a hilarious story about a rather stupid troll trying to eat its own tail without ever even cracking a smile! I also enjoyed Hans Hansen (really?) as Finn, the government official who employed Hans and made sure the truth stayed hidden. There’s a cute bit where he argues with a guy supplying him with a bear corpse that he wants to use as a cover story, and it’s in these scenes that the whole concept actually starts to become more believable (clever use of an actual speech by Norway’s Prime Minister helps too). I also enjoyed how it worked in some of the lore about trolls, such as their hatred of Christians, but without bogging the movie down with a bunch of rational explanations why (it also has a great payoff).
The FX are also quite impressive for a low budget. Unlike Cloverfield, we actually get several good looks at the trolls (there are a few different types, including Tosserlads, Ringlefinches, and Jotnars), and the CG is actually quite well done. The trolls look a bit goofy by design, and that is the only reason they sort of stick out; in terms of compositing, animation, and interaction with the real world footage, they are just as impressive as anything coming out of Hollywood films with nine figure budgets.
I just wish the plot had a bit of escalation built into it. We get our first look at a troll surprisingly early, but unfortunately, beyond the different designs, that leaves the movie with nowhere to go. One of the characters is bitten by a Tosserlad, and may or may not have rabies, but this subplot is completely dropped almost immediately after being introduced. This sort of gives the movie a sort of “it can end here, there, or anywhere” feeling, as there’s nothing really driving us toward the end unless you count “the biggest troll yet!” (note – I don’t). And yet it still seems to end abruptly, with the fate of one major character left unexplained (and still no justification for that goddamn seismologist). I can forgive the lax approach to the found footage “rules” and pacing issues, but the ending doesn’t quite knock it out of the park as well as it should.
But really, it doesn’t matter much, because it’s amazing the movie works at all. It’s very easy for one of these things to be a total failure for one reason or another, and when you add in mythological creatures? Hell, it can almost sound like they’re TRYING to make a bad movie. Troll Hunter has some rough edges, but it’s still a very welcome and unique addition to the ever expanding found footage genre, and, as this is writer/director André Ovredal’s first film, a laudable achievement to boot.
What say you?