Review: Troll Hunter (2010)


First appearing in the form of 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust, the found footage film found widespread success in 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, spawning a seemingly endless wave of attempts at capitalising upon the format’s high profit margin possibilities. Overwrought to the point of tedium nowadays, few films employing this style manage to be anything more than mediocre.

Attempting to track down an illegal bear hunter for a college documentary project, three students discover the man to be a government-employed troll hunter, tasked with the control of the mythical species’ population in Norway. Disillusioned after years of mistreatment, the hunter reluctantly agrees to tell his story to the film crew, and expose the existence of the trolls to the world.

The primary reason found footage lends itself to the horror genre so well is the added layer of realism it instils; the more real something seems, the scarier we find it. The guise of being a real recording deprives an audience of the comfort of the “it’s only a film” reassurance. Troll Hunter is an interesting case, employing the method for wholly different means. This plays the found footage to comic effect instead, the realistic style clashing with the ridiculous narrative idea to create a wonderfully absurd adventure romp through the Norwegian countryside and its folklore.

The low-budget nature of found footage films often relegates the monsters they feature to the shadows, relying on the sounds that emerge forth from the darkness rather than actual sightings. Troll Hunter does away with this secrecy, happy to show in abundance Ringlefinches, Tosserlads, Mountain Kings, and even a 200 meter tall Jotnar, each rendered with incredibly impressive special effects. As is clear from the different species of troll the film presents, writer/director André Øvredal delves deep into the mythology of his creatures, explaining in wickedly sharp detail why they turn to stone in sunlight, among other aspects of troll-based legend.

Weaving pylons, secret government funds, and repeated animal slayings into the narrative, the film treats its central conceit with enough straight-faced seriousness to make a conspiratorial cover-up of troll existence seem half plausible. Troll Hunter brilliantly incorporates folklore and oddities of the Norwegian countryside into the trolls’ story, using these real-world aspects in tandem with the found footage format to generate laughs aplenty at every turn. The continuing cover-up of the trolls’ existence is overseen by the Troll Security Service, who purchase scapegoat bears from a group of Polish hunters in one of the film’s funniest exchanges, a sure comment upon issues of contemporary national politics.

Otto Jespersen, a well-known Norwegian comedian, takes the role of Hans the troll hunter, playing the part with a magnificent deadpan approach. He agrees to participate in the documentary because he is tired of the poor conditions of his work, the low pay, and the terrible hours. The humdrum nature of his complaints is the source of much humour, his job as dissatisfactory as that of the majority of people. Despite its excellence as a piece of comedy, it is Troll Hunter’s treatment of its titular character that really commits it to memory. There is an enigmatic tragedy to this man, a sense of dramatic isolation that makes us care about him rather than laugh at him. It is gently suggested that he might have a romantic involvement with a vet who analyses troll blood samples; the manner in which this is almost unnoticeably hinted at is to be admired.

The dramatic undercurrent to the film reaches a solemn but subtle apex in Hans’ evident distress over the many trolls he has killed in his time as a hunter. While even this is tinged with comic moments, his quiet admission that he has done terrible things is a profound moment of perfect drama. His conduction of a troll genocide sometime in the past haunts him deeply, and adds to his character a touching emotional attachment.

Troll Hunter achieves the wonderful: it takes an overused gimmick and does something truly original with it, breathing new life into the found footage film and providing some much needed innovation. Ridiculous and humour-laden though its premise is, it grounds the comic absurdity with emotion and an endearing, loveable, and quietly tragic character. Deeply dramatic and ingeniously funny throughout, this is among the year’s most enjoyable works.

80/100 - Ridiculous and humour-laden though its premise is, Troll Hunter grounds the comic absurdity with emotion and an endearing, loveable, and quietly tragic character.

Ronan Doyle

Having spent the vast majority of my life sharing in the all too prevalent belief than cinema is merely dumbed-down weekend escapism for the masses, I was lucky enough to turn on a television at the exact right moment to have my perspectives on the medium completely transformed. Those first two and a half hours marked the beginning of a new life revolving around—maybe even depending upon—the screen and the depth of artistry, intellectual stimulation, and emotional exhilaration it can provide.
  • Con Doyle

    Much overlooked film. Looking forward to seeing what Andre Ovredal does next. Also, I am dreading the Hollywood remake of this. It’s times like this that I hope the whole 2012 Mayan calender thing is real.

  • Baron Ronan Doyle

    Yeah, read that they bought the rights to the remake the same day it opened in the US. Sad state of affairs.

  • Reed

    Absolutely loved this film, even if the trolls were a bit cheesy looking. Had genuine tense moments and was just super fun to watch. Like you said, it’s a breath of fresh air in the found footage genre.

  • Christopher Misch

    I really need to see this now apparently.