Friday, 9 September 2011

Review: Troll Hunter

Rating: 15
Duration: 103 mins

Its existence has been known in the UK for just under a year now and with an imminent, albeit limited release, we can finally bear witness to one of the year's most intriguing films currently out there.

Cinema has seen its fair share of 'found-footage' movies over the years, stemming from the iconic, micro-budgeted The Blair Witch Project way back in '99. Its massive success inevitably spawned a host of imitators, with successes that include [REC] and Paranormal Activity (along with their respective sequels), proving the genre still has potential.

Troll Hunter adopts this premise and adds to it. Norwegian writer/director André Øvredal adds a much needed tongue-in-cheek, surrealist edge. The film opens with an obligatory paragraph informing audiences of the ‘recovered footage and edited together' spiel that could even be perceived as an ironic pop at itself. In fact, the film frequently gels moments of sweat induced tension with laugh-out-loud hilarity, ranging from the dangers of being trapped in a troll-inhabited cave, to a hilarious-looking anti-troll suit, to grotesque, close-quarters troll flatulence.

The way audiences will engage with it is open to debate and where you hail from will determine how the film is read. The promotion in its native country was clever: teaser material at the forefront of the movie's promotional campaign denied viewers even a glimpse of a troll until the eve of its release. Indeed, it might feel like a completely serious film to a Norwegian audience due to its inherent Scandinavian folklore embedded within. To others, notably UK dwellers, the event feels like a well balanced parody bubbling beneath a fundamentally earnest exploration of fairy tale cum reality. Whatever the intentions of the film makers, Troll Hunter succeeds tremendously as a deadpan affair that appears to subtly mock itself.

As far as the story is concerned, it won’t initially surprise. It's obvious a trio of investigative students - Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Mørc) and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen) – aren't tailing an illegal bear hunter as first suspected. In fact, their mysterious target, Hans (Otto Jespersen), is a covert troll enforcer, who keeps the beasties in order and within their respective territories. Dotted throughout the narrative are contributions from other characters, including a shifty wildlife trustee, as well as some comedically-enthralling, linguistically-challenged associates, as the plot unfolds and allows Hans to reveal more about the secret world of troll hunting.

Troll Hunter is different to the likes of The Blair Witch Project in the sense that, contrary to its genre, it doesn't set out to terrify you: early on we witness one of the monsters in all its glory, subsequently getting various glimpses of others, which are un-obscured and in full shot. It is this overt approach that alters the dynamic from scares to adventure, as ambiguity is substituted for full on troll exposure.

The CGI depicts the creatures in a satisfying way, too. Appearances differ depending on breed (mountain or woodland) and whilst they aren't about to fool anyone, they do a surprisingly effective job of fitting in both contextually and tonally. To the film’s credit, they're aesthetically pleasing considering the budget - their presence evokes a different sort of tension from aforementioned comparisons.

The acting is adequate and is accentuated with some amusingly set up scenes as the characters walk a fine line of dramatic and tongue-in-cheek. At times they play up to the camera: engage in banter and act in a self -aware way, which adds to the audience’s scepticism over the film’s intention.

One of the elements that give the film belonging to the real world setting is with its breathtaking landscapes and the cinematography that captures it: from the snowy wilderness, to the dense woodland, it all looks wonderful and exudes an exciting atmosphere of a mythical species existing.

Troll Hunter is a hugely entertaining film that avoids falling into the generic pitfalls. It provides escapism, excitement and a massive sense of adventure, as we follow the students following the expert who inadvertently antagonises these beasties. The film treads a pensive line and whether it’s acknowledged as a parody or not, it does a great job of provoking the question. Troll Hunter is a movie that invites us on a journey to transcend fact and fiction and embrace a fairytale culture that takes you on a thrilling, as well as exhilarating hunt.