“The Troll Hunter”
A Film Review by Joey Nolfi
Originally Posted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette June 29, 2011
Norway. A nation that’s taken on a mystical quality within itself. A beautifully untouchable land that exists (literally and metaphorically) far north of American minds, shrouded in a veil of frigid environments and a language filled with words that appear incredibly hard to pronounce.
But, with Norwegian director Andre Ovredal’s “Troll Hunter,” the latest entry into the “shaky cam” subgenre (yes, it’s officially become a classification now), the spirit of this often cinematically overlooked country clearly shows through in a unique and expertly crafted mixture of horror-camp perfection and culturally specific folklore.
“Troll Hunter” comes packed, shipped and delivered with its own seal of authenticity. You know, that little disclaimer found at the beginning of the likes of “Cloverfield” and “Paranormal Activity” informing us that what we’re about to see is in fact an account of nonfiction.
Upon electing to see a film with the word “troll” in the title, it’s playfully obvious that you’re unlikely looking to the film the same way you would a National Geographic special. And that’s the kind of smarty-pants irony the film sets for itself right from the get-go.
While following the verite presentational trend popularized for commercial audiences by “The Blair Witch Project” more than a decade ago, “The Troll Hunter” places us within the perspective of a trio of film students trekking deep into the Norwegian wilderness to document a supposed bear poacher. In short, the alleged poacher is not a poacher at all. And the furry creatures in question are, well, not exactly bears.
Instead, the film students ultimately find themselves deep within the forested mountains, toe-to-toe with trolls they were convinced existed only within their childhood nightmares. The buildup to the exposition is slow, almost intentionally functioning as proof that the picture is in fact a serious one. But once again, the subjects of the film are 40-foot trolls. The binary opposition between “serious” and “camp” thickens.
The whole “reality” aspect quickly unravels once we’re introduced to the behemoths who perfectly adhere to everything you’ve heard in Norwegian mythology. They can smell a man of faith a mile away. They turn to stone in sunlight. And yes, some even have three heads.
It’s this adherence to folklore values that cements the film with an intentionally false fictional feel. Not consumed by its attempt to come off as “real,” Mr. Ovredal is free to take you on a most absurdly fantastical (and sometimes genuinely frightening) insanity trip.
The film ultimately ends up as creepy as it is smart about itself, utilizing its devices as a “shaky cam” film to its own betterment rather than simply a gimmick to garner authenticity cred. For example, it’s not easy to make a giant three-headed version of Dopey from “Snow White” seem intimidating.
Viewing the creature through the night vision of a trembling man’s camera as a distant, unintelligible blur allows the fear to manifest from the unseen and unclear — resonating far more than overt depiction would have.
It takes a while to process that what’s engrossed you for the past hour and a half is one of the best horror-camp displays this side of “Shaun of the Dead,” surpassing its genre brethren with visceral thrills and lowbrow mockery of verite-style authenticity in favor of weighty social commentary.
Somewhere between the lowbrow hilarity of listening to troll flatulence and the tactful re-contextualizing of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s real-life televised acknowledgement of the creatures’ existence you’ll realize it.
But willingly, we’ll all play along; at least someone finally got him to admit it.