“It’s a Tosserlad! Get the hell out of here!”
The Scoop: 2010 PG-13, directed by Andre Ovredal and starring Otto Jespersen, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Morck, Tomas Alf Larsen, Urmila Berg-Domaas, and Hans Morten Hansen.
Tagline: You’ll believe it when you see it!
Summary Capsule: Film students in Norway stumble across a secret: trolls are real, they’re scary, and the government does not want you to know about them.
Deneb’s review: There seems to be a growing trend in certain circles these days to proclaim that we live in an age of reason, that logic and rationalism will soon sweep away all that silly superstitious twaddle that the ignorant believe in. There are any number of people who have written books and the like on this subject, and have stated their views in no uncertain terms on TV shows and the like. Mysticism and religion, they proclaim, are dragging us down, and we must find a way to overcome them. Cold hard science – that’s the ticket.
Personally, I don’t agree, and this is for two reasons. One is personal – I tend to be of a more mystic sort of mindset myself, and as far as I’m concerned, I’ll take a good fantasy over the coldest, hardest science you can dish out. Second, I find the idea that rationalism is just going to sweep away our hoodoos and boogeymen like bugs off a table to be more than somewhat preposterous. The fact that such things continue to have a hold on human consciousness to this day, including in even the most strictly rationalist of countries, would seem to indicate that they ain’t goin’ away any time soon.
Now, suppose we look in on some of these aforementioned countries – namely, Scandinavia. As a whole. Scandinavia has been said to be one of the least religious places in the world, at least in recent years, as well as being a bastion for general tech-stuff. In other words, a pretty rational, scientific place – and yet, there are certain beliefs and superstitions that are more prevalent there than possibly anywhere else. Beliefs in such things as, for instance, trolls.
Trolls are everywhere in Scandinavian culture. They’re a part of folklore and literature. Towns and landscape features are named after them, and little miniature ones are sold in gift shops. One could fairly say that trolls are a constant presence there.
Which, naturally, brings us to Troll Hunter. (Yes, the segue-force is strong with me today, albeit somewhat delayed.)
Troll Hunter is a Norwegian film, and it’s yet another of those ‘found footage’ films that purport to be put together from mysteriously abandoned video recordings. It’s a rather played-out concept, but it works pretty well here for reasons I’ll talk about later.
In this case, the people responsible for the footage are Thomas, Johanna and Kalle (Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Morck, and Tomas Alf Larsen, respectively). They’re film students out on a class project – namely, to make a documentary about bear-hunting.
It seems that bear-hunting licenses in Norway are difficult to come by, and as such, there’s only a fairly small group of licensed bear hunters in the country. Recently, though, there’s been a spate of bear-killings that none of the regular hunters are responsible for, which leads to complaints that a poacher is muscling in on their territory. Everyone knows who he is, too – his name is Hans (Otto Jespersen), and he lives by himself in a beaten-up old trailer.
Naturally, the three think it would be terrific if they could get an interview with him. But Hans proves to be a tough nut to crack. For one thing, he has absolutely no interest in being interviewed. For another, just keeping track of him is difficult – given that he lives out of a trailer, he’s constantly on the move from one end of the country to the other.
This doesn’t dissuade our doughty crew, however. If anything, it makes them still more interested, because there’s something weird about this guy. His place stinks of some unidentified odor, he surrounds it with powerful sunlamps, and he himself is only ever present during the day. He’s gone all night, every night. Just what is he up to?
Well, there’s only one way to find out – follow him. This bears unexpected dividends, for after he catches them in the act of tailing him into the woods, Hans finally caves and decides to open up to these pesky kids. He’ll let them interview him – he’ll even let them tag along and show them what he really does.
Hans, you see, is not actually a poacher – he is a hunter, but his job is perfectly legal, and doesn’t involve bears. No, he hunts (and prepare yourself for this, for it may come as a shock)…
Yeah, I know, I was surprised, too. I guess those Norwegians are just too crafty for oh the hell with it, no he doesn’t. It’s a dumb joke. Forget it.
No, what Hans hunts is exactly what you’d expect a hunter in a movie called Troll Hunter to hunt. He hunts trolls.
These are not your cute little dime-store trolls, either. These are the real McCoy – lumbering, ugly, hairy, big-nosed creatures who range from rather large to staggeringly gigantic. Whoa Nelly.
Seems that trolls have pretty much always been trolling their way around, just like the legends say. The government, paranoid spooks that they are, have been keeping them secret from the general populace – not normally a difficult thing, as they tend to confine themselves to deep forests and the like, and never come out during the day. Every now and then, though, one of them will break out of their designated territories and start causing trouble. There’s no negotiating with them – unlike in fairy tales, they’re pretty much just dumb bellowing beasts – so that’s where the TSS (Troll Security Service) come in. It’s their job to take these creatures down before they become a problem.
Hans, as it happens, is the only troll hunter in all of Norway at the moment (it’s implied that there are others elsewhere in Scandinavia, but we never meet them). Hence his nomadic existence – he spends most of his time driving around the country hunting them down and covering up the evidence.
Sounds like a pretty cool thing to do with your life, right? Wrong. Hans is sick and tired of his job – the hours are long, the pay is low, the work itself is insanely dangerous, and don’t get him started on all the paperwork. Hence, while a film crew are the last people he should be taking along with him on something as top-secret as this, he figures, why not? He’s had it with putting his life on the line and getting none of the credit – let them leak the secret to the public. Serves those bureaucratic bastards right.
As it happens, our heroes came along at just the right (or wrong) time. Normally, troll rampages are wide-spaced, sporadic affairs, but recently, they’ve been popping up all over the place. Basically, the trolls are going crazy, and it’s Hans’ job to find out why. Eager to complete a project that will most likely make them rich, the students go along for the ride.
It’ll make them rich if they survive it, that is. Trolls are dangerous, and remember, this is found footage – which makes one wonder just how it got lost in the first place…
All right, let’s talk about that footage. As I understand it, a lot of people aren’t too fond of this particular gimmick, as A: they think it’s been overdone, and B: it is really easy to get wrong. For instance, there are plenty of found footage movies where the plot depends on the camera being on in places where it really shouldn’t be, and at times where continuing to film would make absolutely no sense – not to mention “found footage” often translating to “shaky-cam so shaky that it gives you motion sickness”.
Troll Hunter is clearly made by people who know about these problems, and have come up with some clever ways to avert them. For one thing, there is every reason for the camera to constantly be on – these people are trying to make a documentary; they’re trying to get as much footage as they can before they edit it all together. For another, there are any number of moments where the camera has obviously just been switched on after a lengthy period and the crew is scrambling to get their stuff together, as well as little extraneous moments where they’re pointing it at each other and goofing off. All in all, it feels like real footage, which goes a long way towards convincing you that you’re watching actual college kids filming actual trolls. (As for the shaky-cam, these are film students. They know how to operate a camera properly.)
Mind you, I can’t talk too authoritatively about any of this, because, as I’ve said in the past, I’m generally a wuss when it comes to horror. I only watched this one because it pushed my buttons so directly. As a lover of the fantastic, I couldn’t very well pass up a film with a concept like this.
And really, I got lucky, because, while Troll Hunter would probably be technically defined as horror, it’s really more of a fantasy, albeit a rather edgy one. Large chunks of it are devoted to simply setting up the world of trolls and its rules – the scary bits come during the actual encounters, which are fast-paced and hair-raising in the best “oh crap it’s coming after us RUN!” sort of way.
At this point, I should probably talk about the actual trolls, shouldn’t I? The actual trolls are pretty damn cool. One thing I appreciate about them is that they haven’t been redesigned in any way from their traditional versions – these suckers look like they just walked out of a book of fairy tales. Also, the way they’re handled is a good mixture between modern know-how and ancient folklore. On one level, the TSS has been hunting and studying them for quite some time, so they know a lot about troll biology, how to tell if they’re sick, how to bait a trap for them, their various different types and varieties (which, by the way, get some great names – Ringlefinches, Tosserlads, etc.) and so on, just as you’d expect any wild game experts to know. On another, while these creatures may be technically animals, they’re still recognizably trolls, with their folkloric attributes still intact – they can grow to impossibly gigantic heights, they turn to stone in sunlight, they occasionally have more than one head, they have a problem with Christianity and can smell Christian blood, etc. (As you might imagine, the latter becomes an important plot point during more than one sequence.) It’s a tricky juggling act, but it works – while you’re made to believe in them as real-world creatures, you never lose sight of what they are.
This is a good thing, because otherwise a good chunk of the soul of the film would be lost. Despite the fact that they’re huge monsters that would be all too happy to rip you to shreds if you got in their way, there is something oddly sympathetic about these trolls. After all, they mean no harm – they’re just bumbling around being trolls, and we humans are basically wiping them out because they’re getting in our way. The film never quite edges into “we’re the real monsters” territory, but it’s hinted at.
Raison d’etre though they be, however, the film would suffer somewhat if it was only about gigantic, snorting, roaring, snuffling man-beasts. After all, they’re not big on conversation. For that, as always, one needs characters – and while Troll Hunter has a relatively small cast, they do a pretty good job. This, by the way, subverts another unfortunate feature of too many of these films – characters composed mainly of intensely annoying and repellent individuals who spend most of their screen time acting like such utter tools that you cheer madly when the killer/monster/whatever finishes them off. Thomas, Johanna and Kalle may not exactly be deep characters, but they’re perfectly likable human beings who seem like people you might actually be able to talk to in real life without wanting to smack them. Their reactions on actually seeing a troll for the first time – a mix of sheer terror and hysterical elation – are absolutely spot-on, and probably how any one of us would react under similar circumstances.
Then, of course, there’s the hunter himself. In more ways than one, the character of Hans is what makes this movie. Beyond the obvious fact that the movie is called Troll Hunter, and therefore requires a troll hunter, the way said hunter is handled is yet another subversion of one’s expectations.
I mean, when the term “monster hunter” comes up, what do you think of? Someone kinda cool, yes? Some quip-spewing rebel dressed in leather and wielding a sword, perhaps, or a venerable old Van Helsing type, packed with ancient knowledge. Hans is a monster hunter in the most basic sense, but he’s long since left behind any semblance of badass bravado – he’s no comic book hero, he’s a grizzled middle-aged man who’s tired of getting smacked around by hulking brutes every night. He doesn’t work for the MIBs – he works for the troll version of Fish and Game with an officious toerag of a boss (Hans Morten Hansen) who wants him to stop messing around and get the job done. He does get some cool, Ghostbuster-ish equipment out of the deal, mind you (since trolls are vulnerable to sunlight, he hunts them with flash-guns that shoot UV radiation), but you’re not going to hear any quips from this guy, and that’s good. Quips wouldn’t fit here. Staring down a raging nine-foot brute who’s advancing on you – that’s plenty badass enough, thank you. Hans doesn’t need no stinkin’ quips.
Mind you, the film has its flaws. The first twenty-odd minutes are basically the three students driving around and trying to figure out how to get Hans to talk to them. (Of course, this also gives us some nice long looks at the gorgeous Norwegian countryside, so it’s not a total loss.) Also, the film is not exactly what you’d call fast-paced – for every sequence where people are screaming “TROLL!” and running around like crazy, there are just as many where they’re standing around filming background details or the like. Mind you, these things are necessary to maintain the illusion of documentary footage, but they can wear a little thin at times. (For related reasons, if you’re expecting a heart-pumping score, you can forget it.) Also, while the CGI is perfectly adequate, we really are picky about such things these days, aren’t we? Hence, there are bound to be a few people who’ll go “booooo, these trolls look like they just came out of a video game!” They don’t, but there are those who’ll say they do.
For what it is, though, the film works quite well, and I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed it. There’s even a bit of comedy, in a very dry, Scandinavian sort of way. If you’re looking for a well-made, engaging film that focuses on something other than your “traditional” movie monsters, you could do worse than check out Troll Hunter.
(And hey, maybe it’s something you should be watching. After all, maybe it is real footage, and they faked it being fake. You never know…)
- As Otto Jespersen was clean-shaven at the time the movie was made, he had to wear a false beard for the role. This is one of the reasons why the character of Hans is so dour – the way the beard was attached made it very difficult for him to smile.
- I’m not sure where it comes from or what happens to it during the rest of the movie, but in one scene Johanna seems to be playing around with a Tigger sock puppet.
- There are many direct references to Norwegian folklore in the film. I couldn’t tell you what they were, but apparently they’re things that most Norwegians will get.
- I don’t think the scientific explanation of just how trolls turn to stone was supposed to make sense. At any rate, it certainly didn’t to me.
- You’d never know it from his performance here, but Otto Jespersen is apparently one of Norway’s best-known stand-up comedians.
- Apparently, Chris Columbus has snapped up the American remake rights to this. I’m not optimistic.
Thomas: Do you think Michael Moore gave up after the first try?
Kalle: If we run into a bunch of inbred pig farmers, your ass is first.
Hans: It’s a Tosserlad! Get the hell out of here!
Polish bear hunter: In Poland, we ask not – we do. Why problem make when you know problem have you don’t want to make?
Hans: Fairy tales usually don’t match reality.
Kalle: They seem to in this case.
Thomas: Aren’t these tracks a little strange? That’s the left foot. And the right foot is over here. Did the bear walk cross-legged?
Thomas: These hunters say those aren’t bear tracks.
Finn Haugan: That’s ridiculous. What else would they be? There is a bear right there with tracks all around it.
Kalle: I’m sitting on a land mine? Are you nuts?
Thomas: The power leads to nowhere.
Power company manager: Well, it does lead in a circle. And in a beautiful landscape.
Thomas: Now we know that trolls also explode.
Malica: Do you all actually believe in trolls?
Hans: You think a squirrel rampaged through here?
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Let The Right One In
- District 9