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We've seen films about vampires, zombies and werewolves, but trolls? When considering the fairy tale beasts the first movies that come to mind are Troll 2 (which doesn't actually have trolls in it) and Ernest Scared Stupid, so clearly there's room for improvement and writer-director Andre Overdal seizes that opportunity with his second feature film, Trollhunter.
After a series of strange occurrences in the forest, a Norway Wildlife Board official (Hans Morten Hansen) swoops in to put local hunters at ease, blaming the incidents on bears. However, a group of students know better and, armed with a video camera, take it upon themselves to investigate the situation. The local hunters point the kids in the direction of a supposed poacher named Hans (Otto Jespersen). When Hans refuses to give them a warm welcome, Thomas, Johanna and Kalle (Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Morck and Tomas Alf Larsen) are left with no choice, but to secretly follow Hans into the woods on one of his mysterious late night exploits. Before they can track down Hans, the hunter barrels in their direction yelling, "Troll!"
Even after Thomas is slashed on the shoulder by something and they find their car wrecked and slimy, the kids still don't buy Hans' belief in the fairytale creatures, that is until they come face-to-face with a three-headed Tosserlad. Despite the danger, the students are determined to capture the complete story, learning all about Norway's Troll Security Service and exposing the brutal beasts the government desperately tries to hide from the public.
Is Trollhunter just another found footage film? Well, yes, but the adventure itself is unique and so inventive that it's like nothing you've ever seen before. In an industry saturated with vampires, werewolves and zombies, an experience involving trolls is rather refreshing. There are far fewer well-known rules trolls live by unlike the necessity for vampires to suck blood, werewolves to be taken down by a silver bullet and zombies to feast on flesh. The possibilities are wide open and Ovredal knows it. Not only do we have a variety of visually fascinating beasts, but a slew of endlessly intriguing breed-specific facts, too. There's the Ringlefinch, Jotnar, Mountain Kings and more, all of whom lack the ability to metabolize vitamin D. When Hans shines his giant UV light in their direction, their bodies calcify and a Slayed Troll Form is submitted to the TSS in their honor. The bureaucratic side of the situation is quite rich as well packing tons of curious conditions and policies from the TSS using a supposed paint service to secretly plant dead bears at troll crime scenes to a power grid manager unknowingly supervising pylons and power lines that double as troll fences.
There really is no better way to make an audience feel as though they're right smack in the middle of this world than by using the found footage format. While shaky cam can often feel like a cinematic copout, when it's used in a way that enhances the material, it can reap beautiful results and that's what happens here. In terms of the script, the character development, particularly in the case of the students, is slow going. However, thanks to the shooting style, the audience is ultimately right alongside the trio, so while you don't really know them per se, at least you feel as though you’re in it with them. On the other hand, the character of Hans doesn't even need that added bonus for we not only learn a great deal about his lifestyle, but about his past, too. Even better, Jespersen delivers an undeniably natural performance resulting in a character that feels real and, in turn, makes this fantastical situation that much more believable.
The visuals are incredibly important in making a film like Trollhunter work, even beyond the shooting style. Audiences are either going to laugh or scream when those trolls pop out of the woods and the special effects department manages to achieve both in the best ways possible. Similarly to the students in the film, you can't help but to laugh and cheer when the three-headed troll emerges from the trees. On the other hand, once the chase ensues, the massive creature is quite threatening creating a great deal of suspense.
Overall, the film thrives on this juxtaposition and owes a great deal of its success to Ovredal's eye for creating suspense, but having fun with the severity of the situation at the same time. In a battle with a Ranglefinch, the troll is downright vicious, devouring an innocent little sheep, but thanks to the incorporation of a cleverly amusing costume, the battle winds up far more fun than dark and devastating. Ultimately, Trollhunter is a monster movie-disaster film hybrid that doesn't take itself too seriously and the combination works beautifully not only making the piece wildly enjoyable, but surprisingly believable, too.