Nowadays when people say ‘troll’ they usually mean someone that deliberately says something inflammatory in order to provoke a response, like ‘Hawk the Slayer is rubbish’. But the trolls in this film don’t live in YouTube comments threads, they live in Norway, and they don’t say controversial things about Babylon 5, they eat stones, goats and occasionally tourists: these trolls are old-school. The Troll Hunter is about a student documentary crew that are trying to find a poacher in the Norwegian wilderness. Instead, they find a mysterious hunter who agrees to let them film him while he goes about his daily business of culling the errant troll population.
It’s probably not much of a spoiler to reveal that there are trolls galore seeing as they are shown quite a lot in the trailer, and it would be a rather boring film if they never actually found anything. I loved the trolls but this is maybe because I used to read about these in Scandinavian children’s stories, and in art by Rien Poortvliet. Also, I have a lifelong fear of Moomins, which are basically hideous little trolls: smooth and white like eggs with their unblinking eyes and ability to talk despite apparently having no mouth… Yeesh.
Telepathic nightmare puppets aside, Scandinavians have the best myths and trolls also feature prominently in stories about the Norse god Thor who would often kill a bunch of them, though probably won’t be doing in his new Marvel comic film. Seeing these oddities brought to quite convincing life in surprisingly good CGI was great but I also suspect that this is going to be the main commercial failing with the film – not everyone is going to really get it: unless you are Scandinavian or were brought up reading some unusual stuff the trolls are likely going to look a bit odd to you. Most films, especially Hollywood films, would not have used creature designs that were quite so unique – some of the traits like the big noses would doubtless have been replaced by generic giant teeth and claws but personally I am happy they didn’t do that. I mean, when are we ever likely to get more films with these bizarre creatures in them?
Stylistically the film resembles The Blair Witch Project, more so than other shaky-cam films like Cloverfield. Both films are about a group of students out to make a documentary in the woods, and the first half of The Troll Hunter could easily have been a set up for a convincing horror movie in the second half. However, unlike Blair Witch, the monster of the piece is revealed pretty early and in quite extensive detail – in fact, in a time where ridiculously fast irritating jump cuts are the norm for revealing CGI creatures, the camera lingers on the trolls for much longer than you would expect. They aren’t exactly scary, but the action is still exciting. It’s a bit like watching the world’s strangest nature documentary. I would assume that it was a conscious choice not to use Moomins as the trolls in the film because that would simply be too terrifying to handle.
So it’s a hard film to categorise: it seems like it will be a horror at first but isn’t scary enough, and though it features a few wry jokes it is not really a black comedy either – though it is possible I missed a couple of jokes that were specific to a Norwegian audience. It’s a bit overlong and doesn’t quite live up to it’s potential but I’d recommend watching it because it is unusual enough to stand out, and for all the millions of dollars poured into CGI black holes in the likes Clash of the Titans or Transformers, it’s the trolls here that will make more of a lasting impression.