I don’t know if there’s been a film subgenre in recent memory that’s been run into the ground further and harder than the “found footage mockumentary.” Ever since The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, there have been at least a dozen movies of this subgenre released — with another one still to come after five release date changes, not to mention the ongoing PA franchise — and they’re all essentially the same. Some unknown persons claim through title cards to have found the footage, we see shots of disbelieving people stumbling into supernatural dangers, we watch the whole thing through shaky-cam, everybody dies and their bodies are never found, the end.
It frustrates me that the device of found footage has only been used in such a limited manner. I would love to see someone do something new with the found footage subgenre. How about a film that isn’t horror? What about a threat that isn’t supernatural? Why can’t at least one of the main characters survive to distribute the film personally?
I hope that some film will come along to shake up the formula in some way, but Troll Hunter isn’t it. It fits every single established story beat of the “found footage” movies to a T, doing nothing plotwise that hasn’t been done by so many films before it. Fortunately, though Troll Hunter doesn’t tell its story in any particularly new way, it does tell its story really fucking well.
This time, our unfortunate main characters are a trio of college students in Norway. They catch wind of a bear poacher running rampant and set out to film a documentary on the subject. They eventually track the poacher down, but instead of calling the authorities, they try to interview him. Being nosy and persistent — as would be expected of journalists — they discover that the “poacher” is actually a troll hunter.
See, it turns out that trolls are very real and very alive in the forests and mountains of Norway, but the local government keeps their existence covered up because… well, why not? Anyway, the trolls are generally kept in isolated territories, but they occasionally overstep their bounds and/or try to attack humans. When that happens, the government calls in Hans — our “poacher” — to do so some exterminating.
It takes a while for Hans to deal with the young reporters, but he eventually decides to open up and tell our protagonists the tricks of his trade on camera. Why does he do this? Well, he’s overworked, he’s underpaid, he’s been doing this shit 24/7 for however many years and he doesn’t legally exist. A change in management might do some good and it’s not like he’s got anything to lose.
It doesn’t take very long to see that the film has a comedically mundane approach to the subject matter. This modern-day troll hunter isn’t some knight in shining armor, but a smelly old hermit living in a camper. When he does put on armor, the first words out of his mouth are “God, I hate this crap.” I think my favorite touch is the form that Hans has to fill out after every kill. In the 21st century, even monster hunting is subject to bureaucracy and paperwork.
Another neat touch is how modern technology is mixed in with old troll legends. For example, because trolls turn to stone and/or explode when exposed to sunlight, Hans uses enormous UV lamps as his primary weapons and dynamite to destroy the resulting statues. Since trolls can smell the blood of a Christian man, Christian music is used as bait. There’s even one scene in which modern biological science is used to analyze a sample of troll blood.
Despite all of these modern, mundane, pseudo-scientific touches, this movie is far from devoid of magic. The biggest reason why is in the presentation of the trolls. These creatures are beautifully realized and staggeringly lifelike, far more so than I’d expect from a small, foreign-made indie flick. They really do move, breathe and act like flesh-and-blood creatures, yet their enormous noses and craggy skin look like something straight out of a storybook. They’re enchanting to watch, there’s no other way to put it.
What’s even more interesting is that the trolls are essentially used as a metaphor for nature. Yes, they’re dangerous to human beings, but that isn’t their fault. They’re just simple beasts, after all, too stupid to do anything other than eat, shit and mate. Moreover, Hans exposits that these trolls can be upward of 1,000 years old, their gestation period is 10-15 years and each troll can only have one child. Though their extermination may be necessary in some cases, there’s a sadness in knowing that these creatures are endangered and once they’re gone, the world will have lost something old and ancient and (in its own way) beautiful that can never be replaced. Having said that, these trolls are still terrifying. There are several moments of great tension and horror to be found in this film, though the shaky-cam was a bit heavy for my liking in places.
Troll Hunter may not do anything new in the way of narrative, the movie’s approach toward trolls is quite novel. It’s fascinating to watch these characters deal with trolls in a way that’s merciless and yet almost reverent in a way. The bureaucracy satire leads to a few chuckles, the nature metaphor is just subtle enough to be powerful and the trolls themselves clearly had a ton of love and effort put into their presentation. This film is easily worth a recommendation.