Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fantasia 2011 Feedback: The Troll Hunter

The Troll Hunter (2010, André Ovredal)

It seems safe almost everybody has, at least once their lives, been forced to perform a task or job which displeases them. They may be the only ones capable of accomplishing said tasks or maybe other circumstances beyond their control unfortunately thrust them into labour that beat down on them physically and psychologically. The author himself can even attest to that. A common expression encapsulating our feelings upon glancing at what jobs or activities those around us are performing is ‘the grass is always greener on the other side.’ But is such always truly the case? Are there not instances when what looks cool is, in fact, a job nobody would ever want if they understood the actual nature of what was involved? If you were told it was possible to leave your desk job first thing in the morning and make a living doing something that seemed out of an action-fantasy adventure tale, would you honestly grab the opportunity? Oh, really? Is that so?...

Intrepid film students Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Morck) and one of their cameraman friends are out in the mountainous Norwegian countryside attempting to piece together the mystery of a bear hunter whom they believe to be flagrantly disobeying the nation’s strict moratorium laws. This lonesome man, named Hans (Otto Jespersen), at first shuns the youngsters, wanting to have nothing to do with them. After parking near Hans’ spot for several days and following him into the forest at night (the only time when Hans embarks on his hunting excursions) , their tenacity eventually pays off with Hans acquiescing, begrudgingly perhaps, to demonstrate what it is he does exactly. It is in the deep woods or Norway on a chilly night that the trio of friends discover, to their shocking disbelief, that the legends of trolls are true. Hans is in fact a government operative assigned to keep the beastly creatures out of sight from regular Norwegians, killing the monsters by turning them to stone whenever they venture too far off their usual territories. Let the hunting begin!

Director André Ovredal, for the purpose of making The Troll Hunter as immersive experience as possible, makes use of the tried, tested and true ‘found camera footage’ technique. The movie opens with a few words from what the viewer assumes is the Norwegian government explaining that the footage we are about to see was captured a couple of years ago and so on and so forth...Ever since the famous Blair Witch Project from 1999, it feels as if there has been a steady number of such ‘found footage’ films released every year. Not all are on equal footing in terms of quality and effectiveness, but The Troll Hunter certainly makes a strong case for being considered one of the superior entries in the genre. There are great number of reasons why it succeeds as a film and this reviewer wagers that the found footage aspect definitely plays a part, partly because it helps in bridging two worlds together: the world as you and I understand it where trolls obviously do not exist (or?...) with the one we quickly discover in this film. There is always the question of how on earth can someone possibly be always filming everything that happens around him, particularly when things grow as chaotic and action oriented as they do in Ovredal’s film, but that sort of thought process destroys the fun and purpose of the genre. The audience is not really supposed to know the trolls exist, and therefore the very fact that we are privy to such groundbreaking footage serves as a crucial ingredient in making the movie such an amusing ride. It is an aesthetic that works effortlessly in the case of this movie.

However, Ovredal and his team of filmmakers are not content to merely rest on the laurels of successfully utilizing the found footage technique. If the audience is going to hang around with these characters for an hour and a half, then better make them interesting, and here again the efforts bear fruit. At the center of all the human interactions is of course Hans, played wonderfully by Otto Jespersen. The fear in the first few minutes is that the character might be too cold and distant for the audience to even want to tag along with him, but Hans eventually reveals a very down to earth, frustrated blue collar side, making him very identifiable. Following an early encounter with the titular monsters, Thomas interviews Hans to better understand how he landed himself such a out of this world occupation and what his feelings are towards it. In one of the film’s many comical scenes, Hans expresses a frustration about his lot in life, what with the long night time hours, low wage, lack of support, lousy benefits, etc. He comes off just like any jaded, overworked and underpaid employee should, lending the fantastical tale with an amusing sense of honesty and believability. There are plenty of other little quirks which come into play, such as Hans insistence that no believing Christian must join them on their expeditions since the trolls can not only smell the stench of humans (whom they eat if they catch, naturally) but have an uncanny ability to sniff out Christians. 

From what has been discussed above, I imagine some readers have already begun to assume that the movie is not very dark and even makes conceded efforts into making some of it as fun as possible. Those readers would be spot on correct. Director Ovredal understands the sort of material he is working with, and while there undoubtedly is a way to create a true horror movie version of troll hunting, making a version that simply invites the audience to have a good time is just as admirable. That is not to say no tension exists at all, mind you. There is a sense of tension whenever the mythic creatures chase after our protagonists, and some moments are incredibly effective, such as when the audience’s point of view, the cameraman, turns on the night vision he only just discovered existed and notices there is a troll standing only a few feet away, trying to spot the humans out. Another scene sees the group land themselves into a troll cave while the monsters are gone, only to see the latter group return to their dark and damp home before the crew can leave. The design of the trolls themselves is intelligent, in that they are a hybrid between realism and the cartoonish. It helps that much of the film takes place at night, so the computer animation crew arguably did not have to worry about making the creatures too realistic anyways, but one gets the sense that the balance between realism (or what can be deemed ‘real’ under the circumstances) and stylistic is attained.

The Troll Hunter was a great crowd pleaser when I saw it and it should play very well among fans of monster movies. The attention to detail paid to each individual troll is impressive and even when the forest locale grows a bit tiresome, Ovredal take the story to the more vast winter land of northern Norway to freshen things up in anticipation of a truly epic climax. Even for people who do not normally go for such pictures, Ovredal has concocted a sufficiently fun adventure that has the potential to please the masses.

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