February 23, 2012

Trolljegeren (2010)

Originally a name to describe negatively a jötunn (giants) in Norse mythology, the word Troll evolved in Scandinavian folklore to define not the giants, but a different and very particular class of supernatural being. Varying in size and appearance, trolls became primitive pagan monsters, ugly and simple minded, though often big and remarkably strong. An important element of Scandinavian folklore, trolls have entered popular culture via the fantasy stories inspired by these legends. Being savage and ugly made them good material for villains in fiction, and as such can be seen in fantasy novels ("Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" for example"), role-playing games and of course, movies. While the better known instance of trolls in films may still be the infamous horror films "Troll" and "Troll 2", Norwegian director André Øvredal will hopefully change that with his "Trolljegeren", a remarkable horror film in the now familiar style of "found footage" mockumentary that continues that generation of great Norwegian horror films that have been released since the last decade.

"Trolljegeren" or "The Troll Hunter" begins as a documentary by film students Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Mørck), and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen). The group is trying to make a movie about a bear poacher, Hans (Otto Jespersen), who has been illegally killing bears. Through the eyes of cameraman Kalle, and with Johanna as sound recorder, Thomas attempts to interview Hans, and uncover him as the bear poacher, but he avoids contact with them. During one night, Hans goes hunting and the three students follow him into the woods, hoping to film him in action. However, they are attacked by a giant monster that Hans insists is a troll. The monster bites Thomas and destroys the crew's car, so Hans helps them return. However, the group wants to know more, and Hans confesses that he is not a bear hunter, but a troll hunter, hired by the government to secretly control the troll's population. Tired of his job, Hans allows the students to film him, hoping that the truth about trolls gets to be known.

As it can be noticed, "Trolljegeren" opens with a premise similar to the 1999 horror "The Blair Witch Project", which also dealt with the found footage of three students that were making a documentary; however, André Øvredal's screenplay (done with contributions of Håvard S. Johansen) is significantly different in tone, as his story is more a cynic comedy about the thankless job of the troll hunter. However, the comedy employed by Øvredal is of a subtler humor, one which finds the laughs not in the vulgar parody of a genre, but precisely in the serious tone in which such outlandish events are treated. Cleverly written and filled with countless references to the trolls folklore, "Trolljegeren" is a mockumentary that actually works its fantasy elements into reality, that builds up its verisimilitude by fleshing out a coherent mythology of its own, and all while at the same time takes a dig at Norwegian government institutions. The clumsiness, carelessness and stubbornness they show is just part of "Trolljegeren"'s very Norwegian self deprecating humor.

However, the most remarkable accomplishment of André Øvredal's "Trolljegeren" is the way he employs the mockumentary genre to capture the sense of wonder that folktales are supposed to have. As written above, Øvredal's intelligent screenplay already plays a big role in this, but it's the execution of it what would ultimately make of break the film. Fortunately, Øvredal succeeds and the result is a mockumentary that truly feels like the real thing. As in most found footage films, the point of view is that of the camera, and what Øvredal achieves is to transmit the very same amazement that the three filmmakers feel when Hans shows them the truth. Their curiosity overcomes their fear, and Øvredal's narrative just keeps on feeding that curiosity. A common flaw of found footage films is that in their search for capture realism, the tedium of real life tends to crept into the film. Not the case of "Trolljegeren", as Øvredal keeps things moving without wasting time and always adding to its story instead of rambling into another direction.

Given that his character is the subject of the documentary, Otto Jespersen receives countless moments to shine as Hans the Trollhunter. Certainly, the movie's weight is on him, and in a subtle, restrained style, Jespersen remarkably builds up a very natural and realistic portrait of the tired hunter. Several scenes consists of interviews to Hans, and it's in those scenes in which Jespersen is shown at his best. Often with only his body language he transmits the melancholy of the hunter, dissatisfied with his job and hoping for a quieter life. Glenn Erland Tosterud, who plays the interviewer and director of the documentary, is probably the weakest amongst the film's cast, though he makes up for his lack of skill with a natural charm and strong presence. Way better is Johanna Mørck, who plays sound recorder Johanna, whose character grows as the events of the film unfolds. Tomas Alf Larsen has the difficult job of being the point of view as he plays cameraman Kalle, though fortunately he rises up to the challenge and delivers an effective job.

Another highlight of the film is Hans Morten Hansen's brief but substantial performance as Finn Haugen (Hans Morten Hansen), head of the Norwegian Wildlife Board, and the one that's chasing the crew in an attempt to prevent the secret to go public. In fact, there are many things to praise in this humble low budget wonder from Norway, which after "Villmark", "Naboer" and "Død snø" has proved to be a fountain of a new and refreshing generation of horror films. From the clever cynicism of its screenplay to its great performances, and even the remarkable (for the budget) special effects that display trolls in all their somber glory. As written above, the serious tone in which such an absurd premise is taken only adds up to the subtle black comedy of Øvredal's film, and the mix of comedy and horror works pretty nicely for the most part. Perhaps the film's biggest problem is simply the fact that it can't help but feeling derivative due to the overuse of the found footage device, however, amongst these kind of films, "Trolljegeren" is a winner.

Perhaps the best way to describe "Trolljegeren" is captivating. What initially begins as a boring student documentary about illegal hunting soon evolves into a dark trip full of wonders. Of pretty dangerous wonders by the way, as director André Øvredal doesn't back from the original myth: trolls aren't cute, trolls are monsters, very dangerous monsters. "Trolljegeren", for all its satirical humor and sheer absurdity, it's still at its core a true return to the original horrors of fairy tales, to that mixture of terror and fascination that surrounds all the good horror stories of the world. More than a decade after "The Blair Witch Project" kick-started the boom of found footage films, "Trolljegeren" puts an ironic twist to the premise of three film students in the woods and delivers a vibrant and exciting documentary on supernatural wildlife.



The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I was going to get this but I read a lot of mixed reviews, but based on your write-up it sounds like I might actually like this one. I'll be sure to check it out when I get a chance.

J Luis Rivera said...

Do check it out, even if you hate the now-tired found footage gimmick, it's worthy, cause there's more than that in it.