Variable Zero

Trollhunter (2010) Review

Personally speaking, I never expected the concept of verite genre cinema to go anywhere beyond what had been blown into utter spectacle after Matt Reeves' CLOVERFIELD. And yet, in the years following the success of films such as Paranormal Activity, this already bordering on antiquated gimmick receives a unique shot in the arm by way of this sporadically fun entry from Norway of all places. Following the exploits of a small film crew as they investigate a mysterious man dubbed a poacher of sorts deep into the norwegian wilderness, only to discover that the only live quarry the grizzled veteran is after, are a large and nasty race of beings only spoken of in fairy tales. Initially skeptical, the group are soon witness to a frightening encounter, and after their vehicle is demolished by an unseen creature, ask to accompany the man in search of several trolls possibly responsible for a number of incidents, including the disappearance of two German tourists. Under strict instructions, the filmmakers are host to a bevy of bizarre rules, and eventually butt heads with not only the lumbering behemoths, but a shadowy group operating to keep the legend under wraps. The hunter's impetus for being so inviting being due to his tiring of the life, and all he has seen as the sole hunter of these wandering creatures in a land ever faced with expansion. And the further the crew is taken by the man's candor, and hardbitten nature, it becomes clear that the danger is only going to rise to insane levels.

Now given in that description, one would assume that the narrative would take on a consciously horror-esque tone, however much of what makes Trollhunter stand out within the subgenre is in how it is less about the fright, and much more about exploring the life of the fantastic within the context of a "found footage" piece. In many ways, a fantasy is a much more apt description. A folklore laden journey, with an experienced vet at the helm, all the while the audience continues to wonder how much of what occurs in the film would happen in real life without the crew giving up halfway, and hitchhiking it home. Our on-camera host, Thomas (played with apt enthusiasm and growing unease by Glenn Erland Tosterud) is injured early on in the film, and yet is dogged in his interest in the wary hunter Hans (Otto Jespersen, who pretty much owns the film.), to perhaps the detriment of the health of everyone else involved. He eventually comes to better sense, but not until things have reached such an absurd pitch that its pretty hard to see him, let alone his cameraman, Kalle(Tomas Alf Larsen), and sound engineer, Johanna (as herself) survive as their filmed encounters in the wild with an assortment of increasingly dangerous woodland creatures. The bigger issues that keep the tone wandering listlessly at times come when one begins to question the filmmakers need to continue on despite the peril they are clearly placing themselves in.

And in how the film does little to tell a truly compelling story, it makes up for it in places by instilling a good amount of classic troll lore, as well as an almost X-Files-esque conspiracy edge to the proceedings which seems to suggest that the film is going for a more direct sociopolitical angle which loses me I must admit. In the almost more nuisance than threatening Finn (Hans Morten Hansen) we are given a few instances in how he and his crew (hiring immigrants in disguised vehicles to provide proof of the mundane to the public- in one case a dead bear to explain away a recent incident) do their part in protecting the Norwegian wilderness from trolls, as well as keeping the world ignorant of their existence. As the film rolls on, it becomes apparent that the patience of the filmmakers is thinning the longer they experience the truth, wondering why it is so important that such a secret be kept.

Of the film's use of often handheld, the results are relatively mixed to unimpressive. Especially when there are at times so many cuts within crucially tense moments that play less like something captured in the moment, and more like a standard film. It is as if the film at times forgets what it is, or exposes its limitations to glaring degrees. Some effects work is a little so-so in areas as well. Much of the effects focus is with the trolls, which range from mixed to outright fantastic in the finale.

One of the more straight-up fantastical elements that in many ways clashes with the handheld approach (especially in a post-CLOVERFIELD world) is the design-work of the trolls themselves. Not satisfied with rethinking their look in regards to more animal-like, or contemporary monster designs, there is a sweetly classical look to them that is purely out of Nordic, Scandinavian aesthetics. In many ways, it has been so long that such a style has been seen in a movie of this manner of effects scope (particularly in a film set in a non-fantasy world) that the impression can be a bit jarring for some. But when we reach the final reel, and it comes time to deliver on showing a species only hinted at earlier, there is a certain majestic charm to its appearance that almost salvages the piece from becoming little more than a fun weekend diversion.

So in all, Trollhunter doesn't offer too much in the way of remarkable story, or scares, but it does at least share a rare type of fantasy vision amongst what is some eerily beautiful landscape. Word has it that the film was a huge success in its home country, and understandably so. There is an undeniable quirk-packed charm to the whole affair. I only wish there was a little more meat to these bones.