I’ve been waiting for Trollhunter, and it is as fun as I hoped.
The movie begins by explaining that DVDs containing 283 minutes of mysterious footage turned up in the mail (at a newspaper or t.v. station? I forget). What follows is that footage. [e.g. the structure is just like The Blair Witch Project, a mock-doc based on supposedly found video.]
Three student journalists in Norway are looking into a story about bear poachers. They start tracking a possible poacher, Hans, who drives around in a camper with strange dents and gashes in its side. He rebuffs their efforts to question him on camera. They follow him into the woods, where they hear strange howls and roars; he emerges out of the forest, screaming “Trolllllll! Run!” They turn tail to flee (camera bouncing around) from a frightening three-headed troll standing 20 feet or so high, which Hans eventually kills with an industrial-strength flashlight (strong light either turns trolls to stone or, if they’re younger, makes them explode).
Turns out Hans works for an X-Files-esque government agency dedicated to the management and concealment of Norway’s considerable troll problem. Hans is called whenever a troll is causing trouble or wandering too close to humans. He’s disillusioned about the whole enterprise, partly, it seems, for ethical reasons: at one point he broods about the time he had to slaughter a whole community of trolls, including pregnant females and young ones not yet able to walk: “it was a massacre…” But he’s also pissed off that he gets no overtime or night pay, and he’s sick of his boss, a hypocritical bureaucrat. So he allows the student crew to tag along with him.
The movie is really funny about the bureaucratic apparatus of the secret troll-management program. For every troll Hans kills, he has to fill out and file a Slayed Troll Form, which features, sort of like a car-accident report, outlines of a troll body that Hans needs to annotate based on cause and means of death.
Hans remains a slightly mysterious, brooding character of unplumbed depths. The interior of his camper features rather lovely ink drawings of trolls made by Hans which seem to go beyond anything necessary for sheerly practical purposes. By the film’s climax, he begins to seem like an Ahab, obsessively pursuing an implacable force of nature; or perhaps a more relevant comparison would be the Roy Scheider character in Jaws. He’s very good at his job, perhaps in part because even as he characterizes trolls as stupid and cruel predators — “I once saw a troll trying to eat its own tail; it kept snapping at it through its legs until it fell over and rolled down the hill” — he also maintains some degree of sympathy for these ancient creatures, who are so out of place in a modern Norway.
The movie is very witty in the way it draws on and updates old Norwegian folk lore about trolls. No Christian should participate in a troll-hunt, as trolls go absolutely crazy for the smell of the blood of a Christian man. At one point Hans carries a bucket sloshing over with “a Christian man’s blood” as bait for a troll who is parked under a bridge in classic Billy Goat Gruff fairy-tale fashion. (I guess the government supplies Hans with as much of the blood as he needs.) Hans has outfitted himself in a full-body metal outfit which makes him look like the Tin Man in preparation for getting mauled by the creature: “God I’m sick of this job” he mutters.
Trollhunter, whose CGI special effects are really excellent, and I presume made on a tiny budget, made me think of the great Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In: a smart independent Nordic film more influenced by Spielberg than Bergman. Of course part of what makes this one so excellent is the way it develops this American-blockbuster influence in an indigenous cultural context. The trolls are closely modeled on illustrations from 18th-century Norwegian books (the director commented on a DVD extra feature). And everything is shot on location in absolutely gorgeous Norwegian forests and coastal areas.
I’m sure the somewhat-disappointing U.S. remake will follow in good time (actually I never saw Let Me In, I guess it’s supposed to be pretty good). If that does happen, I wonder what the filmmakers will do with the trolls’ instinctive hatred of Christians — there would seem potential for something interesting there in an American context. But of course a lot would be lost if the film were set outside Norway.
Perhaps inevitably, the phrase “No trolls were harmed during the making of this film” scrolls at the end. The joke reminds us of the film’s insistence that the trolls are really just animals. They ultimately seem rather sad in their stupidity, rage, smelliness (they emit deadly farts) and obsolescence.