Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Trollhunter (Trolljegeren)


A trio of Norwegian college filmmakers follow a secretive man they believe is poaching bears and set out to expose his illegal activities.  Fashioning themselves documentarians working in the tradition of Michael Moore, they keep up their pursuit of him despite having interview requests rebuffed multiple times.  When Hans (Otto Jespersen) finally consents to reveal what keeps him busy all hours of the night, his answer is not one they anticipated.  Hans claims to hunt trolls.

The students--interviewer Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), sound engineer Johanna (Johanna Mørck), and cameraman Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen)--are greatly amused by such an outrageous assertion, but after accompanying Hans on a search and being chased by a giant, lumbering, three-headed creature, they are duly convinced that trolls exist.  Possessing the first video evidence of trolls is bound to reward them with fame and fortune, and they continue to travel with Hans to collect more proof that the mythical beings are real.

TROLLHUNTER (TROLLJEGEREN) adopts the form of a found footage documentary, which translates as lots of banal conversations, abundant shots of the Scandinavian countryside, and competent but shaky handheld camerawork.  The format is inherently forgiving toward these shortcomings, if not outright encouraging of them.  While the style grants TROLLHUNTER the opportunity to take the cheap way out in showing (or not showing) the trolls, the special effects crew aims high and impresses with the design and realism in the gnarled creatures.

As robust as the FX work is, the meat of the film is narratively undernourished. There’s plenty of driving on highways and trudging through woods but little in terms of story or character, at least as far as the college students are concerned.  They need to be more engaging even if their actions aren’t.

Conversely, Jespersen amuses with the workmanlike approach he invests in his weary lone ranger patrolling the territories.  Hans’ matter-of-fact style, as if he’s placing cheese in mousetraps and swatting flies rather than baiting and blasting towering beasts, brings droll humor to the rather absurd situations he encounters. TROLLHUNTER can’t quite decide if it is playing the run-ins with trolls for laughs or scares.  Jespersen’s dry wit suggests that director André Øvredal should have favored the former.

Grade: C+

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