The Troll Hunter (2010)
By: Simon Foster on March 10, 2011  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
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Director: André Řvredal
Starring: Otto Jespersen, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Mørck, Tomas Alf Larsen
Screenplay: André Řvredal
Country: Norway
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It is no great stretch to claim that the mantle Hollywood once held as the premiere purveyor of cinematic dreams and nightmares is shifting to, of all places, the frosty Nordic territories of continental Europe. In fact, perhaps it has already happened.

Home to such recent flag-bearers as Swede Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In (2008) and Fin Jalmari Helander's Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010), the genre chills and B-movie thrills that were once the domain of the American studio system are now being reinvigorated by a new, young wave of Scandinavian directors who are leaving their US brethren in their wake. The latest film to reinforce the trend is Norwegian André Øvredal's thrilling monster-movie, The Troll Hunter (Trolljegeren).

Like Alfredson and Helander, Øvredal melds the scary stories of regional folklore with the very latest in bigscreen technology and artistry. This infuses his narrative with both a local favour that has proved irresistible to domestic audiences (The Troll Hunter has been a huge box-office hit in Norway) and an originality of which most Western cinemagoers are starved (its Sundance 2011 screening was a sensation).

The bogey-man story of choice in this case is that of the mythical troll. Though described in fairy tale parlance as mischievous crank-pots who live under bridges, the truth is that trolls are actually quite monstrous, the largest as tall as a 5-storey building. Their existence is kept under wraps by the TSS (the Norwegian government's covert Troll Security Services division), who employ trained troll-killers to travel the fjords and woodlands with armoured jeeps and ultra-violet lamps (trolls hate bright light) to keep the population in check.

One such troll hunter, Hans (controversial comic Otto Jespersen, playing it perfectly deadpan) becomes the focus of a young documentary crew - on-screen talent Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), sound-girl Johanna (Johanna Mørck) and mostly-unseen cameraman Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen), whose closeted Christianity proves his undoing, as trolls can smell God-fearing folk. At first a bothersome hindrance to the grizzled hunter, Hans finally decides to open his experiences up to the trio's prying lens and expose the menace and management of the troll population in all its terrifying, exhilarating and secrecy-shrouded entirety.

Although easily categorised as a mix of Steven Spielberg's monsters-run-amok adventure Jurassic Park (1993) and the first-person mayhem of Daniel Myrick's and Eduardo Sánchez's The Blair Witch Project (1999), The Troll Hunter rises above such pat comparisons. The movie draws its appeal from a engagingly silly sense of humour (woodland trolls grow extra heads to woo females of the species; cave troll flatulence is unbearably fetid), truly immersive special effects (the groups first encounter with a rabid troll, shot with night-vision in a dense forest, had your reviewer giggling with fright) and the stunning camera work of Hallvard Bræin, who exploits the tightest of dark spaces and the vastness of Norway's natural wonders with a master's eye.

A nicely-played cafe scene that provides some well-timed backstory for Hans and the occasional gentle jabs at bureaucracy (Hans Morten Hansen's TSS field agent Finn is a ruthless jerk; a cracking in-joke featuring real-life Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg) give audiences just enough to think about between the frights and fun. But The Troll Hunter is refreshingly devoid of pretension, jettisoning all self-aware smugness (the downfall of Matt Reeve's similarly-constructed Cloverfield, 2008) in favour of being the best darn monster yarn it can be. If Hollywood is ever to reign again as a B-movie mecca, those in control could do worse than follow the model that André Øvredal and his regional contemporaries are setting.
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