The 1980 Italian exploitation film Cannibal Holocaust, directed by Ruggero Deodato, broke traditional cinematic conventions while creating major controversy following its release. Although camcorders, cell phones, and the like hadn’t been invented yet, the main character, an aspiring documentary filmmaker, uses a 16mm Bolex camera to much the same effect. But it wasn’t until 1999 that The Blair Witch Project shattered box office records for independent films, and with that, helped launch a new sub-genre of horror into the mainstream. Ever since there have been a number of imitators, and most have been surprisingly original in their own unique ways. A variety of genre themes have been experimented with via the handheld, found footage approach – incorporating everything from the Loch Ness monster, ghosts, zombies, the gulf war, alien invasions, demonic possession, online dating, and more. But we’ve never seen Trolls until 2010 when Trollhunter entered the realm of the mockumentary.
Tollhunter marked the sophomore effort for director Andre Øvredal, who had previously co-directed the psychological thriller Future Murder (2000). The high-concept mock-doc follows three students as they discover Norway’s biggest conspiracy: a government-run effort to keep the country’s troll population secret. After making a big splash in Europe, Trollhunter began making the rounds at North American film festivals following a highly successful secret screening at Fantastic Fest where it received an overwhelmingly positive response from critics and audiences alike, and with good reason. Trollhunter is a solid entry into the found footage genre, but it is also unfairly criticized for being something it never intended on being – scary. Trollhunter instead chooses to emphasize adventure and humour over horror, making it a gentle and surprisingly touching welcome in a genre usually piled with blood and gore.
Trollhunter works on a number of levels: fairytale, fantasy, supernatural adventure, political satire, workplace comedy, but the most immediately satisfying characteristic is Ovredal’s take on Scandinavian legends. Ovredal introduces various troll subspecies such as the Tosserlad, the Ringlefinch, the Jotnar. One of the many clever and engaging aspects of the film, in fact, is Ovredal’s take on the classic ideas of the supernatural rule book. He places the trolls in the modern world in complete seriousness, and what makes the project so compelling is the way it immerses us in situations where we, along with the cast, discover its own made-up mythology. Trolls turn to stone when exposed to sunlight, they can easily detect the smell of Christian blood, some have three heads while others have only one, car tires are regarded as a delicacy, and troll hunters map the layout of rocks in an area with transparencies to know if trolls have crossed over their territory.
The film’s model appears to be akin to Cloverfield only with a much lower budget and rough CGI. Still, the production values are impressive with wonderful troll design work by Håvard S. Johansen and Ivar Rødningen. As with The Blair Witch, Ovredal shoots his creatures vérité-style, using a fair amount of jittery camera work, night vision photography, point of view shots, characters breaking the fourth wall, and in one scene, even continuing to shoot with a cracked lens. But unlike Blair Witch, which offered up various scares by keeping everything hidden and off-screen, Trollhunter exposes its elusive prey in full, early on.
By the end, Trollhunter slowly unravels a backstory that adds a tragic dimension to the picture. The trolls are slowly dwindling in numbers, killed off by man’s greed. After a certain point, you realize it’s simply another example of how the monster is us.
Successful on multiple levels but one: Trollhunter suffers from a seemingly rushed ending. Still, with its brisk pacing, charismatic cast, beautiful locales, creature design and unique premise, Trollhunter comes highly recommend, before Hollywood tries to remake it.