Fantastic Fest 2010 Review: TROLL HUNTER
Editor's note: This review was originally published as a Fantastic Fest Review on October 3, 2010.
Writer: Andre Ovreda
Director: Andre Ovreda
Cast: Otto Jespersen, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Hans Morten Hansen, Robert Stoltenberg, Knut Naerum
Note: TROLL HUNTER was presented as a work in progress at Fantastic Fest.
This review will not call TROLL HUNTER "CLOVERFIELD in the Norwegian wilderness." Nor will this review say TROLL HUNTER is "like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT with kaiju." Furthermore, no comparisons will be made between the scale and awe-inspiring revelations of the creatures in TROLL HUNTER to the Playstation classic Shadow of the Colossus. While none of these statements would be completely false, each would be a disservice to the unique creativity of TROLL HUNTER, a Norwegian fantasy film that has appeared almost out of nowhere with style and skill to spare.
TROLL HUNTER is exactly what you'd expect from the packaging. The found footage setup quickly leads us into the meat and potatoes of the film - the story of a hunter who tracks and destroys trolls. A group of college students are doing a documentary piece on bear poaching in the Norwegian countryside when they stumble upon the mysterious man and, thinking they have found a vicious killer, follow him one night only to find that his chosen game is something far bigger than bears. The hunter, weary from years of work, has no interest in fighting the determined young filmmakers and allows them to follow him while he does his government-sanctioned job, carefully explaining the mythology of the creatures, how to kill them, and how the government has kept the trolls secret. Of course, things go wrong as the inexperienced crew get too close to the action, finding new ways to get themselves into danger with each new kind of troll they encounter.
As a found footage film, TROLL HUNTER is absolutely one of the best of its kind. It is lean, well shot (the Norwegian countryside becomes its own character - a beautiful landscape worthy of a true life fairytale) and uses the handheld camera to its advantage when carefully revealing trolls for the first time. The normal problems with this style of cinema appear when the cameraman is running for his life - everything becomes a blur. Fortunately, though, these moments are few and far between and more of the tension comes from just how close the filmmakers get to the beasts before things become chaotic.
A quick bit of internet reading shows that the film is well researched, with troll types and curious behaviors (trolls can smell the blood of Christians and believers are forbidden from the hunt) deeply rooted in Scandinavian mythology. The troll lessons feel genuine and, while not played for laughs, are amusing asides while waiting for the next scene of troll action. Speaking of those moments everyone will go to TROLL HUNTER to see, each kind of troll is beautifully rendered in a more surreal type of CG with many shots of the creatures looking as close to real as is imaginable. It's top notch computer effects work and a lot of care and attention seems to have been put into lighting each troll-filled scene such that any deficiencies in CG capabilities are expertly masked. In fact, aside from a few brief sound and subtle synching issues, TROLL HUNTER is completely releasable in its current form.
There's an unfortunate flaw that runs through TROLL HUNTER, one that is not unique to this particular film but seems to rear its ugly head in most found footage style films - the characters are almost all completely one-dimensional. Because of the selective nature of scenes that can be shown after the footage is "found" to make this a feature film into a cohesive narrative, there is little backstory to the documentary crew itself. The audience is introduced to them when they begin their documentary and have little time to build a relationship with them. The one character that does work, and for the film to work as a whole really had to, is that of the troll hunter himself. Rather than being an indestructible superhuman, the man is an aging government worker - he's a pencil pusher in between killing trolls, filling out multiple forms - who has no love for the job anymore, it just pays the bills. It is a recognizable archetype and makes him the character that carries the film for the audience.
Sometimes a movie pops up out of nowhere carrying the badge of "high concept" and surprises long-jaded genre fans. TROLL HUNTER, which has had minimal buzz until recent weeks, appears to be the work of assured and seasoned professionals yet very little information can be found regarding the filmmaking team. The direction and special effects work make it a fantastic piece of found footage filmmaking and the script taps into a rather under-utilized type of creature to create something that, while not entirely new, feels like a breath of fresh air. Through moments of wonder and scenes of genuine tension, the audience is treated to a quick adventure that is both exciting and memorable. TROLL HUNTER stands out on its own and is the real deal.