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Dustin Putman

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Troll Hunter  (2011)
3 Stars
Directed by André Øvredal.
Cast: Otto Jespersen, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Mørck, Tomas Alf Larsen, Hans Morten Hansen, Urmila Berg-Domaas.
2011 – 99 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for terror).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, May 9, 2011.
Shot in a faux-documentary style that makes its fantastically ominous happenings all the more real, "Troll Hunter" does for Norwegian mythology what 1999's "The Blair Witch Project" did for getting lost in the woods and 2008's "Cloverfield" did for alien invasions. The tone in savvy director André Øvredal's film is a bit lighter than those aforementioned pics, and, thus, doesn't achieve the same heightened level of stark fear. Boy, is it fun, though, the rocky, woodsy, altogether exotic terrain of its foreign landscape marrying splendidly with its narrative fairy tale gone awry. The characters are more or less a means to an end, but where "Troll Hunter" really cooks is in its bewitching cinematography by Hallvard Bræin and the splendid uses of tension, restraint, and eye-poppingly seamless visual effects to weave a riveting, one-of-a-kind spell.

In the wild outskirts of Volda, Norway, a rash of bear killings have led authorities to suspect the work of poachers. A film crew from the university—on-camera journalist Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), sound recordist Johanna (Johanna Mørck), and cameraman Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen)—think they've found the culprit in Hans (Otto Jespersen), a hunter who works all hours of the night before returning to his trailer home for a day's sleep. When the group secretly follows him into the heavily forested mountains, they expect to catch him in the act of illegal activities. Instead, they narrowly escape an attack from a giant three-headed creature, just one of many species of troll that the government has been battling to keep on the down-low as Hans tries to control an outbreak. The trolls' kryptonite is ultraviolet light, causing them to either explode or turn to limestone. When a professional scientist/folklorist explains this curious process and why it occurs, it quite surprisingly sounds plausible. Tagging along with Hans thereafter, Thomas and his crew are excited by their findings, but also ignorant of the level of danger they're getting themselves into. When one of them mentions early on the possibility of traveling to Oslo and selling their footage to the BBC, it's a suggestion they probably should take.

Like a pimped-out cinematic telling of the mood-drenched Maelstrom ride at Disney's Epcot, "Troll Hunter" is an ambitious treat of equal parts threat and whimsy. The film is destined to spawn a U.S. remake, the thought of such even more unnecessary than the norm since the story is specific to Norway (it wouldn't work or make sense if transplanted to, say, New York City) and naturally means more to its characters because they are locals and have grown up hearing and not taking seriously the folk yarns about trolls. Director André Øvredal and his unaffected cast draw the viewer in with the majestic scenery Kalle captures in front of his lens and a gradual increase of intrigue and danger as the characters are drawn into an investigation far bigger than what they could have imagined. The images caught on film of the trolls, leading to a climactic showdown on the top of a desolate mountain with one the size of Godzilla, are nothing short of amazing, the effects work used to bring them to life so vivid and adept that they actually show up most of today's mega-budgeted studio productions. The CGI, blending without question with the live-action surroundings, deserves awards recognition. As with the dinosaurs in 1993's "Jurassic Park," "Troll Hunter" makes one believe these hairy otherworldly beasts actually exist.

In a curious plot point, the trolls are drawn to Christians like moths to a lamp. When a new camerawoman named Malica (Urmila Berg-Domaas) is picked up along the way, her noted Muslim faith is questioned. Will she be safe? Malica, unaware of what she's about to see, thinks nothing of the question about her religious background, or, at the least, take heed of it. It's a missed opportunity, then, that Malica rarely, if ever, is glimpsed again; she is the one from this point forward who is supposed to be behind the camera. Whatever shock and disbelief she may have once the monstrous trolls come calling is left untouched upon. More compellingly explored is a sequence where Hans leads the filmmakers into a large, dark cave they believe to be empty, only to get trapped when a family of trolls return unannounced.

The found-footage genre is just that—comprehensive enough nowadays to have its own genre—and this one purports that the filmmakers have mysteriously disappeared, the only evidence of what they saw and what might have happened to them beginning and ending with the film they shot. "Troll Hunter," then, is an edited compendium of the 283 alleged hours of footage, and it depicts situations, vistas and images never before seen in quite this manner. An overall darker motion picture could have probably been made—the characters treat their investigative journey with a giddiness that belies the horror until it's almost too late—but there are still plenty of scenes worth setting the hair on a person's arm on end. Bursting with ingenuity and simply stunning to look at, "Troll Hunter" stands as an example next to 2010's shoestring sensation "Monsters" of just how much bang indie filmmakers these days can get with their bucks. Hollywood, are you listening?
© 2011 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman