Friday, June 10, 2011

The Legends are True: Troll Hunter

Norway faces a number of tricky public policy challenges, like an aging population, an influx of culturally dissimilar immigrants, and the increasingly belligerent troll colonies. As in every genre film, the Norwegian government would like to keep that last one a secret. However, a student film crew stumbles onto the truth in screenwriter-director André Øvredal’s The Troll Hunter (trailer here), a darn well put together monster movie that opens today in New York.

Our title character is the most grizzled civil servant you will ever meet. Hans has no hatred in his heart for the ginormous ogres he hunts. He just has a job to do, working for the double-secret government office of troll affairs. Suspecting he is a bear poacher, aspiring journalist Thomas and his classmates start rather unsubtly tracking the tracker. Fed up with his bureaucratic boss and the piles of departmental red tape, the hunter decides to show them the truth: the trolls are out there. Of course, they can’t handle the truth.

Though it probably cost less to produce Troll Hunter than to ship the film to Park City for this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the trolls look shockingly good (more or less resembling big hulking gnomes), thanks to the canny work of VFX supervisor Oystein Larsen and cinematographer Hallvard Bræin. Presented as the student crew’s salvaged videotape, much in the manner of Blair Witch, the film’s rough look well serves their troll effects. No harsh close-ups here, just flattering wide shots.

While the college kids are all essentially expendable, Otto Jespersen is all kinds of awesome as Hans. The found footage conceit always makes character development problematic, but his cranky Troll Hunter feels like a fully formed, flesh and blood person, albeit a considerably difficult one. In fact, given Jespersen’s rep as the Bill Maher of Norway, his time is probably best spent chasing through the forests of Vestlandet.

Øvredal truly engages in kitchen-sink filmmaking, cherry-picking some clever traditional troll lore while slathering it all in generous helpings of black humor (much of which comes courtesy of the acerbic Troll Hunter himself). Øvredal also sprinkles a thimble full of socio-political “relevance” on top, but wisely never belabors his points. While it is hard to read too much into the trolls’ ferocious response to smell of the blood of Christian believers, there is an unmistakable anti-developmental message weaved into the subtext. Fortunately, it is not pronounced enough to distract from a good clean troll hunt.

Troll Hunter is one of the most entertaining Norwegian monster movies in years. Øvredal really pulls it off, getting a key assist from Jespersen as his crusty protagonist. Proudly representing Kingdom of Norway, it opens today (6/10) in New York at the Village East.