Something is afoot in Scandinavia. Following on the heels of 2010’s Rare Exports, which imagined Santa Claus as an ancient beast emerging to wreak havoc on modern day Finland, Troll Hunter again sees folklore used as the tongue-in-cheek basis for a monster movie, this time in Norway. While both films use their absurd premises as an excuse for droll, quintessentially Scandinavian humour, Troll Hunter is the painstakingly realised drama to Rare Exports’ broad horror-comedy, approaching its faux-documentary premise with a level of seriousness that is both amusing and at times mind-bending.
Using the wearisomely familiar premise of presenting recovered ‘found footage’, Troll Hunter follows three young student reporters as they discover that the man they believe to be a bear poacher is in fact a tracker of the supposedly mythical beasts. In a fantastic conceit, ‘The Troll Hunter’ (the brilliantly deadpan comedian come-actor Otto Jespersen) is sick of the demands placed upon him by the increasingly incompetent government bureaucracy hell-bent on keeping his prey’s existence secret, and decides to blow the whistle by taking the three on his nightly excursions in search of trolls that have wandered from their designated ‘zones’ in isolated parts of the countryside.
Director André Øvredal makes the most of his premise, utilising the District 9-style grainy CGI and the sense of close up, claustrophobic atmosphere afforded him by the documentary style. The trolls, from three headed beasts to monsters resembling woolly mammoths crossed with Wombles, are an effective combination of the fierce and the ridiculous, and Øvredal has fun playing with familiar tropes such as trolls lurking under bridges, turning to stone in sunlight and craving Christian blood. The Troll Hunter brilliantly renders its prey both fantastical and profoundly run-of-the-mill through the weariness of its central character, a dynamic that is frequently funny while never making the numerous chase sequences anything less than convincingly tense.
How the existence of these beasts has not already become known is never satisfactorily explained – wandering trolls seem to be both common and enormous – and the government’s reasons for wanting to cover up their existence is hazy at best, even if it fits with the film’s portrayal of bureaucrats as figures of fun. If Troll Hunter wears a little thin around the hour mark, even with a spectacular snowbound finale, it is only fitting with its mantra of turning the mythical into the mundane. It may be an ultimately gimmicky post-modern take on local folklore, but it is still something of a hoot.