If you’re one of the countless people that saw “Cloverfield” but felt there just weren’t enough trolls, it appears that your needs have been catered to. “Trollhunter” is the latest in the Found Monster Footage genre, a weirdly-specific niche that accommodates the necessity of shooting cheaply with digital video and not showing much of the beast. This kooky Norwegian import pries open a mystery no one was really clamoring to answer, which is: what is buggering around in the forests of Norway? And is it possibly the mythical giant trolls we know from old bedtime stories?
Young Thomas and Johanna are college students taking footage and investigating various bear-related incidents along the Norwegian countryside. All it takes is a surly older man keeping secrets and the lack of direct answers that causes our intrepid filmmakers to pursue what lies beyond the acceptable standards of recognizable truth. Of course, the duo never once have an inkling that the bloody animal carcasses can be attributed to gigantic troll creatures with fat noses, wide ears and an appetite for flesh.
In the eye of the storm, the two youths find solace in that unnamed surly old man, who is actually a covert government agent. His job is to not only protect the countryside from these lumbering beasts (who, according to legend, turn to stone when exposed to light) but must also erase all evidence that Norway is a hotbed for man-eating trolls. In one of the film’s many droll jokes, his position lacks glamor and sex appeal, as he joylessly travels from forest to forest, grumbling about being underappreciated by his superiors.
It doesn’t make much sense that this highly-secretive, no-nonsense man would disclose this information to these students, even begrudgingly. But to acknowledge that is to illustrate the fallacy of the Found Footage movie, where, if only the cameraman had the sense to retreat and put down his equipment, there would be no movie. These films have less and less of a relationship to reality as far as human behavior, and you wonder how long it will be when this genre has its own “Scream” where characters purposely puncture the conceit of the always-rolling camera capturing all the scares.
His relationship with these two students is also ineffectual, as the duo are ciphers for any number of cliched dialogue, revolving around incredulously speculating if they are going to live, or trading popular myths about ancient trolls (all of which are true). A fatal late-reel reveal involving the rarely-seen cameraman doesn’t hit with the immediacy it should as we barely know the guy. Fortunately, the deadpan performance from Otto Jespersen as the eponymous working man does a lot of the heavy lifting, the picture treating him as a hero and as a member of an unspoken working class.
“Trollhunter” succeeds because of its close-to-the-vest humor and the matter-of-fact presentation of the horror. It’s when the film stops skirting genres and commits to the scares that it fails to stick the landing, going from an absurdity to just another one of those movies with a giant beast that must be destroyed. At least “Trollhunter”‘s final gag, that this is a more accurate representation of the humility of being a wage-slave, hits harder than anything in any number of Found Footage movies. [B]