Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review: The Troll Hunter

 America, by and large, pretty much dominates the movie business across the globe. This isn't to say that other countries don't get in on the action (they do) but that they tend to dominate the big blockbuster/genre film scene. But over the past decade, some of the countries of Europe have been making a habit of turning out some genre films, but with the more intellectual, more, well...ballsy attitude that tends to come with being a film from Europe (Irreversible would never have gotten made in America) and the results have, by and large, been pretty damn excellent. Brotherhood of the Wolf. Let the Right One In. Pan's fucking Labyrinth. Now Norway has decided to get in on the scene, with the thus far overlooked The Troll Hunter.    
The story reads like Michael Moore meets Cloverfield with traditional Norwegian troll mythology plugged into the margins. The film is primarily concerned with a bunch of college students who's names escape me going into the woods looking for a man named Hans, who they think is a bear poacher. It turns out he's a Troll Hunter for the Norwegian government, keeping the still existing Trolls of Norse mythology in the areas designated for them.  
And for those of you who had big books of European mythology growing up, all the pieces that define Troll mythology are there, but with a more modern spin. The Trolls turn to stone or explode in sunlight, so Hans' primary weapon is a UV ray. The Trolls can smell the blood of a Christian man, so it is vital that everyone be Atheists. This could easily be silly or stupid, but the films (or rather Hans') out and out refusal to acknowledge that any of this is at all silly keeps it from drifting that way.  
Hans himself is an interesting character, using a unique spin on the Norse legends the film draws so much from. See, in Norse mythology and European mythology in general, monster slayers are generally regarded as great heroes, but Hans is a bitter, run down asshole to whom Troll hunting is just another low paying job. It adds an extra layer of poignance that Hans is essentially a hero, risking his life to protect people, but he considers it little more than an exceptionally dangerous chore. And it speaks well of both the writer and the director that the script is sharp enough to work that angle hard, especially in the 3rd act.  
Of course, since this is a movie about a man hunting giant monsters, the CGI is extremely important, and it rises to the challenge admirably. The Trolls themselves are incredible creations of CGI, detailed with rocky skin, moss and dirt. Each different kind that shows up moves and acts differently, and those of you dreading a Cloverfield-esque technique of hiding the monster behind the mockumentary style of quick shots and shaky-cam, will be happy. The camera not only remains steady multiple times and even comes with a night vision (nice of them). We get a solid look at the Trolls the first time one shows up, and repeatedly from then on.  
Also unlike Cloverfield (most applicable comparison, sorry) the film does have structure, and most importantly, rising action. From a fairly easy and sober beginning the movie progresses rapidly and by the time we get to the Trolls that appear in the 3rd act...well you'll see.  
It's not without it's share of problems, many of them brought on by the film's style. While Hans is well defined and interesting, none of the behind the camera characters get any real depth. A big plot twist is telegraphed way too early (and given away in a trailer I think) and the twist behind why the Trolls are becoming more aggressive is annoyingly mundane. The film never answers the overhanging questions of why the Trolls have to be concealed or why no one has ever noticed them before. Oh and the film's ending leaves much to be desired. I mean, I didn't expect a lengthy denouncement from a mockumentary, but it doesn't even end properly, it just sort of stops.  
But those issues don't stop it from being good, even while they hold it back from beating out X-Men or Source Code. But it is quite good, and if you have the inclination and ability (not sure how available this movie is) you should definitely see it, before Chris Colombus' production company gets it's dumbed down remake out.
Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he kept expecting someone to say 'They have a cave troll.'

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