Trollhunter is an agreeably daffy little film that lives at the junction of dark comedy, light horror, and high fantasy. It combines the jerky, found-footage feel of The Blair Witch Project with Tolkienesque troll mythology to create an energetic and engaging mockumentary. The resulting film may not be for all tastes, and some viewers may need a patch of dramamine, but Trollhunter delivers a surprisingly fun and innovative experience.
The story is achingly simple: Somewhere in the misty, snow-capped peaks of Norway, a suspected bear poacher baffles the local authorities. A curious crew of student filmmakers descend on the scene, hoping to uncover a deeper narrative. Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterlund) and Johanna (Johanna Mørck), along with their cameraman (Tomas Alf Larsen), quickly zero in on a suspect. Hans (Otto Jespersen) is a surly, burly nomad who quietly moves from one campsite to the next and growls at anyone who dares engage him. His vibe lands somewhere between Ahab, Jeremiah Johnson, and the Unabomber. Such a man probably has a fascinating story to tell, so the film crew stays on his trail.
When they finally arrive at the truth, the young students get the shock of a lifetime: Hans isn’t some backwoods criminal, slaughtering bears for his own gain. No, he’s a troll hunter. Turns out, those massive, stinky, slobbering monsters from The Hobbit are very real. The crew stumbles onto Hans battling a troll, somewhere deep in the forrest. His chief weapon amounts to a giant camera flash, which he wields like a grizzly old paparazzi. (As with classic mythology, trolls are deathly allergic to UV light. It will either turn them to stone, or detonate them into a stinky, hairy pond of goo.)
From this point, the student filmmakers attempt to document Hans battle against trolldom. At the same time, they must also keep their footage from the authorities, who maintain a Men in Black level of secrecy on the never-ending tussle between man and troll. Hans bears a strong resemblance to Quint from Jaws: He’s been hunting these creatures for so long, the hunt itself has come to define him. His entire life revolves around knowing how to repel or attract the trolls, how to kill them, and how to learn from them. For Hans, troll hunting is more of a religion than a job.
The second half of Trollhunter plays much like Blair Witch before it: Characters race through the woods, screaming as they gasp for air. The camera bounces and shakes, as it’s attached to a running back weaving through tacklers. Some viewers might be find with this, while others might barf on the floor. Either way, this shaky camera acts as the film’s only storytelling conduit. We can only see and hear what it will allow us.
That actually aids the film’s visual effects. When the trolls appear, they’re usually from a distance, in the dark, and only partially in focus. As with the Cloverfield monster, or Jaws, the film bets that we’ll be even more scared by a monster we can barely see. For the most part, it pays off.
With that said, Trollhunter never leans hard into horror. The scares are light. Gore is minimal. If anything, writer-director André Øvredal aims as much for macabre humor. While the film’s droll jokes aren’t for everybody, this gamble also pays off.
All in all, Trollhunter is fun and well-made, but it also isn’t terribly memorable. Is it worthy of repeat viewings? Probably not, but neither was Blair Witch. Still, if you’re looking for a flyweight fantasy-horror film, head over to Amazon Video and give this one a look.
104 min. R. Amazon Video.