Before watching Trollhunter, I didn't know that it was one of those found footage movies that seem to be cropping up everywhere. So when I started the movie and realized this, I admit I was a little annoyed. I was watching this movie in close proximity to two other found footage movies and was a bit sick of the device for the moment. But I gave Trollhunter a shot, and holy crap, it practically blew me away.
Thomas, Johanna, and Kalle are college documentarians who are investigating a possible bear poacher in the Norwegian woods. When they catch up to the man, Hans, they find out that he is actually not a poacher but a somewhat "assassin" hired by the government to control the troll population in Norway. The kids start following Hans, as he kills trolls and tries to find out why so many of them have been acting up lately.
Not being Norwegian or knowing anything at all really about Norway or its history, I didn't know that trolls were such a big part of the country's folklore. However, this story is easily translated and understood by people from different cultures and is a great jumping-off point for Americans to learn about another country's traditions and stories. All the stuff about the troll mythology that the film brings up was very interesting to watch - the fact that they can smell a Christian person's blood; that they either explode or turn to stone when exposed to sunlight (or as Hans uses as a weapon - a large UVB light); and the several different types of trolls that roam the mountains and countryside. Makes me more interested to look into these Norwegian troll fairy tales!
Many reviewers have commented on the film's humorous side, but when I watched Trollhunter, I took it totally seriously, as if trolls actually existed! The film definitely has subtle humor throughout, especially the fact that the whole concept should be ludicrous and absurd, but the handling of the material was smartly done and made for a story that was believable and quite gripping. The only funny thing I managed to catch on to was in the scene where Hans is going to try to extract a blood sample from one of the trolls. Hans ties three goats on top of a bridge as bait to lure the troll out. I was watching this scene for a good three or four minutes before I suddenly burst out laughing because I finally got the joke. It's a reference to The Three Billy Goats Gruff, duh! *smacks forehead*
The actor playing Hans, Otto Jespersen, is also apparently a well-known Norwegian comedian but I would have never guessed that based on his performance. He plays Hans as a very serious man and exactly the way the character describes himself - one who has a shit job that he's sick of doing for no compensation or recognition. But he's also very good at his job and sees it as his duty to keep doing it, often doing crazy and suicidal things to kill the trolls. The other actors are also believable in their roles and do well at first thinking that Hans is funny for believing in trolls, then getting excited when they actually see one for the first time, and then getting scared when they realize the dangerousness of their situation of getting so close to the trolls.
The action lags a little in the middle after the first troll is killed but each scene introduces new evidence and information about the trolls themselves and the lengths the Norwegian government has gone to to hide their existence from the population. The veterinarian who works with Hans and brings up scientific explanations for the trolls' behavior, the power lines that serve as fences for the trolls' territory, etc. are all great ideas that give the story depth and scope and make it seem all the more real.
The effects are a big part of the film's success. They were quite simply amazing. All of the different trolls are shown to the audience literally as big as life and were incredibly detailed and seamless with the background and actors. Each troll the team encounters is different from the last one - from one with three heads to hairy ones with huge noses to a giant over 200 feet tall. These are not the squat, cute trolls of American fairy tales. They may be stupid and eat rocks, but they are also rampaging beasts that you probably want to stay far away from. Trollhunter has a lot in common with movies like Cloverfield and Jurassic Park (which the director says was his biggest inspiration) in how it films these gigantic creatures and gives the audience exactly what they want to see when they are on screen.
The mockumentary filmmaking style is never too much of a burden. I have to say that though the Norwegian fjords and mountains are absolutely beautiful and just beg to be filmed, there a was a little overabundance of "car pointing out the window while driving" shots. Otherwise, the technique is utilized very well and manages to show us all the action and keeps up the suspense in certain key scenes. Loved the tidbit where the thing that looks like a tree trunk is suddenly revealed to be one of the troll's legs that is only a few feet from the cameraman! One thing I also have to point out is that the female videographer that they bring into the story later, Malica, actually turns out to be a much more skilled videographer than Kalle was. Haha, girls are better than boys!
Of the newer movies that I have watched recently, Trollhunter was a very pleasant surprise and by far one of the best I've seen in a while. It's also one of the best examples of the found footage/mockumentary subgenre - I'd probably rank it up there in the top five simply for its use of trolls as the monsters.