Wednesday, 6 July 2011

FILM REVIEW: Trollhunter

You gotta love the Norwegian sense of humour. It’s the perfect mix of dry wit, visual slapstick and incredulous hand-over-mouth moments – and I’ve enjoyed this immensely in films such as Kitchen Stories and North. Now they unleash a whole new kind of comedy with Trollhunter – wryly making fun of and exploiting the country’s mythology and also stepping into the mockumentary genre. Three kids, being hunted in the woods, armed with only a hand-held camera… but Blair Witch this is not.

The three in question are University students, apparently trying to put together footage for an upcoming project. Their focus is Hans, a lonesome mysterious man who appears to be behind recent bear kills which have shocked the hunting community. Latching onto a potential juicy story, they follow Hans in his truck, filming aborted attempts to interview him (he gruffly shrugs them away) and observing strange markings and dents on his vehicle, which they assume have been made by the bears he poaches… As Hans takes off suddenly one night into the woods the young film crew follow him hoping to catch him in the act. What they encounter instead is something so astonishingly ridiculous (but also, suspending your disbelief here, pretty awesome), their lives are changed forever. Hans is not hunting down bears – he is hunting down 50 foot, triple headed, foul smelling, not-under-bridge dwelling trolls and covertly saving the population of Norway. Feeling somewhat undervalued by his government and co-workers, he agrees to let the students follow him and document events as he tries to uncover why trolls are suddenly beginning to break free of their confined territories.

What I found surprisingly unusual with Trollhunter – and this could just be me and my childlike willingness to believe that everything in fairy tales and folklore actually exists – is that very early on, I stopped watching with my tongue lodged in my cheek and started thinking, “blimey this is all quite exciting.” The concept of a mythological creature actually being frightening real and hidden by the government to avoid a catastrophic fallout makes a tremendous movie, whether they’re playing it straight or not. Even when the trolls start turning to stone when sunlight is shone at them, and when Hans tells the students without a twitch of the eye that the trolls can smell if you are a Christian (all very true in Nordic folklore) the film works as an adventure as you buy into every thing that happens and in my extreme case, start getting a bit too involved: “how has no-one ever seen them? They’re huge and they make loads of noise! Surely if you were living in that remote farmhouse you would have heard booming noises in the middle of the night…”

The CGI and special effects are also amazingly stirring (think of when you first see a dinosaur in Jurassic Park) – teasing the audience at first as the filmmakers get split up in the woods and hear strange noises all around them. Through night vision lens you’re straining your eyes to catch a glimpse of the fictional beasts, wondering whether the director (André Øvredal) will actually show them – though looking at the poster for Trollhunter you’re never in any doubt about that (it’s what made you watch the film in the first place, right? You get to see the actual trolls!). And not only do you see them, but they’re a rare breed of ugliness, with some more powerful and dangerous than others. The stand-offs between the trolls and Hans when they come are brilliant, and what’s more than that is Hans’ attitude towards the trolls – he understands his duty is to kill them and keep their presence a secret, but he’s also affected by the health of these creatures, desperate to stop their suffering and also working with a vet (you think troll doctors exist? moron) to work out why certain species have been showing symptoms of illness which is causing them distress. The film has surprising depth for what it is.

I think the success of the film catches director Øvredal out, as the last scene is somewhat redundant after everything that has gone before it. A press conference with Norway’s prime minister leads him to blurt out the importance of constructing new power lines much to the protest of campaign groups: “because Norway has trolls!”. The look his aide gives him is ingenious, but still, I wish they’d completely done without that and fed into the film’s central mystery. Even the postscript “none of the crew were ever seen again…” comes across as overcooked.

Trollhunter is still going to be a mockumentary by the very nature of its subject (even I, with all my fanciful wishes, have not been made a convert), so why not carry the wave through and leave the ending ambiguous? Was it a joke or was it for real? If it’s going to be a joke then the tone and humour should have been more consistent throughout. It's a bit of a shame it ducked out, and wobbled at the end. Hugely enjoyable though - go and see it with all your mates on a big screen!

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