If you saw a bearded man running through the woods in the middle of the night and he suddenly exclaimed this warning, would you follow him? If you’re the student filmmakers of Trollhunter, you most definitely would. And by following this man, their documentary about a mysterious supposed bear poacher turns into something else entirely. The latest installment in the “found footage” horror genre, Trollhunter is a playful and clever import from Norway that made true believers out of late-night audiences at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
What sets Trollhunter most apart from other recent big monster yarns like Cloverfield and Monsters is its somewhat flip sense of humor. I’m not saying either Cloverfield or Monsters should’ve had a sense of humor; those were harrowing films about harrowing situations, but Trollhunter is about, well, a Norwegian guy with a beard tracking down trolls, blasting them with UV lamps (they hate the sun, and it kills them!), and while the film definitely has a sense of danger and mystery, it’s also well aware of its own silliness.
Indeed, as impressive as the CGI-rendered beasts are, the most memorable scenes in the film are the ones that go for chuckles, such as the one where our Trollhunter sits in a diner and deals with the post-mortem paperwork he has to fill out after whacking a troll, grumbling about the bureacracy of the TSS (Troll Security Service). There’s also a rather intense sequence that contains a clever nod to the old Norwegian fairy tale, “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” (though the troll wins in this version).
If the film has any kind of weakness, it’s that Trollhunter can’t quite decide where it stands on its own premise, weaving back and forth between pure fantasy and hard science. The trolls can, indeed, smell the blood of a Christian man, which ends up being bad news for one of the members of the film crew, whereas a veterinarian has a (mildly plausible, as these things go) scientific explanation as to why the creatures either explode or turn to stone when exposed to sunlight. The film also attempts to show how the government has kept this whole troll thing quiet for so long, the details of which seem half-assed at best. You can’t really have it both ways — the makers of Trollhunter might’ve done well to establish stricter “rules” to the whole premise.
Then again, this might all be part of the joke as well, as illustrated when the students present their new cinematographer to the Trollhunter. “She’s Muslim. Is that okay?” “I don’t know. We’ll see,” he shrugs.
But, again, the movie’s about a bunch of trolls stomping around the Norwegian countryside, so, like the mighty beasties themselves, it can probably do whatever the hell it wants. Regardless of any mild identity crisis, Trollhunter is a highly enjoyable wintry romp for the summer movie season.