Devin Declares THE TROLL HUNTER One Of The Gems Of Fantastic Fest 2010!
If any genre has been beaten into the ground it must be the found footage genre. It's been used, abused, rode hard and put away wet, and I was pretty sure that I would need a couple of years before I was ready to deal with another movie made up from someone's 'last known footage.' Turns out I was wrong - I would just need to see a really fun and unique take on the genre. This time the doomed camerapeople aren't dealing with ghosts or zombies or serial killers. This time they're dealing with trolls. Big fucking trolls.
The Troll Hunter posits a world where trolls are real and roam the Norwegian countryside, closely managed - and kept secret - by the government's Troll Security department, an arm of Wildlife Management. They lumber around eating rocks, hang out under bridges, and turn to stone or explode in direct sunlight. They have designated territories but sometimes they wander outside the bounds, and that's when Hans, the Troll Hunter, gets called in.
Three college students are making a film about bear poaching, and at first they think Hans is a poacher. But after following him into the woods and coming face to face with a three headed troll, the truth is revealed. They then begin following him around from troll hunt to troll hunt, often getting much closer to the danger than they like. Hans, who has broken secrecy because he's sick of his job and its poor benefits, is trying to figure out why so many trolls are leaving their habitats, and the answer could be deadly.
What I loved most about The Troll Hunter is the design of the trolls. In the modern day too many filmmakers want realism; they'll ask the FX house to study animals or to look at the environments in which the monsters live and try to design something that makes biological sense. While Troll Hunter does throw a little bit of science into the mix - a mostly half-assed attempt to explain why sunlight kills trolls - they allow the beasts to be mythological creatures. Sort of cartoony with long, bouncing noses and gangly, improbable limbs, the trolls of The Troll Hunter look like they stepped out of a drawing in a book of fairy tales and legends. The FX were excellent; while what we saw was technically a work in progress, I didn't notice much, if anything, that needed improving. The CGI trolls are terrific, and often look like incredibly complicated animatronic suits, which is about the highest praise I can give to digital FX of this kind. There are a bunch of different species of troll, and they're all wonderful.
The performances are capable if not incredible. The actor playing Hans (I'm having a hell of a time finding this movie on IMDB) doesn't so much play a badass as a world-weary man who is completely proficient at a badass job. Troll hunting is dangerous and unrewarding, and he lives a lonely, solitary life. Killing trolls (and then disposing of their stone corpses, which can be a bigger pain in the ass) has worn Hans down to the nub. It's a great character, and he overshadows the goofy (but generally likable) college kids.
The world of The Troll Hunter is nicely devised and set up, with basic rules and concepts delivered effortlessly. I think that the movie could have still worked without the found footage element, but that bit is surprisingly unobtrusive. Director Andre Overdal doesn't overdo the shaky cam, and he allows the camera to get good looks at the trolls, which might not be the most 'realistic' way of doing it, but is very satisfying. The big problem with the mock-doc aspect is that it forces Overdal to adhere to the 'last known footage' trope, and the movie he has made is much more fun and light than that. As the story gets to its conclusion it's actually disappointing where it goes; the tone was perfect for the previous hour and a half and then it kind of goes out the window right at the end.
Fresh and fun with some of the best monster designs I've seen in a long while (please bring me a line of The Troll Hunter figures!), The Troll Hunter is exactly the kind of original genre material that fans wait for eagerly. It delivers on just about every level, stumbling only right at the end. Funny, with a great sense of scale and a perfectly built world, The Troll Hunter is one of the gems of Fantastic Fest. Hopefully it gets a release in the US.
-- Devin Faraci