This review was originally posted from the Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2011. It has been reposted for the film’s home video release.
There are obvious comparisons to be made between “Trollhunter,” a Norwegian found-footage-style mockumentary, and films like “Blair Witch Project” and “Cloverfield” (check out Eric Kohn’s rave review). But don’t let the thinly treading trend worry you, because this one is easily the most entertaining of the bunch. I also consider it a closer relative to last year’s underrated low-budget sci-fi movie “Monsters,” not in terms of plot or style but because this film similarly does quite amazing things with its apparently low production cost. The trolls do at times look pretty silly and Harryhausen-esque, but that is mostly due to the difficulty in accepting such fantastical creatures in a movie otherwise meant to feel like documentary. Those disappointed by “Monsters,” by the way, will appreciate how much more action and spectacle is to be found here. Far less character development, however.
Another reason I wish to reference “Monsters” is because of the political satire subtext of “Trollhunter,” concerning Norwegians citizens’ criticisms against power lines running through the nation’s landscape. While “Monsters” has been slammed for being overly blatant in its border/immigration metaphors, the corresponding political allegory of “Trollhunter” is so far from transparent it might have in fact been accidental. The fact that the use of satirically edited footage from a press conference in the very end is said to have been a last-minute decision (it had to be given that it occurred a year after the film was shot), there’s reason to believe filmmaker Andre Øvredal ever intended for such a comic commentary on current events.
Still, I wonder if the satire was always there and then it kind of turned a corner with the sudden use of real news footage. One of the best things about “Trollhunter” is how beautiful the Norwegian landscapes look on screen. It might be some of the best-looking digital cinematography I’ve ever seen with regards to capturing gorgeous scenery. And before the power lines are even mentioned or shown, it’s clear that the trolls serve as another kind of blemish on an otherwise amazing backdrop. They’re ugly and threatening, not unlike power lines (and offshore oil fields, which aren’t seen in the movie but which are called The Troll Fields).
But then eventually actual electrical towers show up, huge and monstrous themselves. The young documentary filmmakers are told by Trollhunter Hans that they’re not in fact power lines, but part of an electrical fence system put up to keep the trolls confined and the people of Norway safe. Just as is stated out of context in the press conference, the people may complain about the towers’ existence, but it’s for something the people wouldn’t rather do without (in reality electricity, in fantasy safety from being eaten by trolls). So both the creatures and the towers are representing the same thing, which is the towers, only differently than how they’re really explained.
I love, by the way, how Øvredal ridicules the people who easily accept the government’s defense and explanation. He has it revealed that the power lines do not even connect to the people, running instead in a circle, and never questioned why by the men monitoring the system. There also seems to be a bit of religious satire going on in the film, stuff about trolls really disliking Christians, which they’re able to smell more than atheists. I’m not sure how these jokes fit in politically, though, and would love to hear from any Norwegians out there who have a better idea or vantage point.
Anyway, “Trollhunter” is first and foremost a fun and highly entertaining monster movie, more thrilling than “Monsters” (yet less engaging, for me, I still prefer “Monsters”) and more tongue-in-cheek than most other horror/sci-fi mockumentaries. Highly recommended.
“Trollhunter” is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Recommended If You Like: “Monsters”; “The X-Files”; “Blair Witch Project”