Remember the feeling you had the first time you saw Jurassic Park and wondered “Are those real dinosaurs?” That.
In Norway, a group of Volda University students begin to investigate the mysterious appearance of dead bears turning up at odd locations. Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Mørck), and their cameraman Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen), pick up the trail of a hunter (Otto Jespersen) who they believe might be a poacher. Following the mysterious man out into the woods, they quickly discover that the man actually works for the Norwegian government. His job is to herd, kill, and prevent knowledge of the existence of something thought only to be fantasy: trolls.
The “found footage” genre has grown by leaps and bounds, from art house horror like The Blair Witch Project to mainstream in-theater theme park rides like Cloverfield and (as of this writing) the Paranormal Activity trilogy. The trick is to come up with an excuse to keep filming when anyone in their right minds would abandon the camera and run for their lives, but it’s a cheap option for Independent horror and creates a realistic atmosphere that adds suspense by putting the audience in the middle of the action. Trollhunter (“Trolljegeren” in its native language) combines found footage with Jurassic Park-quality effects to tell an almost heartbreaking story amidst a horrific situation. It’s clever, well thought out, and brilliantly sucks you in.
Someone took a lot of care to build up a plausible production design. From troll species types to hunting techniques to a government cover-up scheme, the more you learn, the more sense it makes. There’s even a twist in the last act that imparts a bit of real-world medical fact into the mythological, creating an ultimate truth that is just too much fun not to want to believe. The research must have been meticulous to dig up every legend about trolls (what they eat, when they’re active, what provokes them) before weaving them into the plot, even a few I wasn’t aware of (or might have been made up since it fit). It’s a horror story that comes with a typical horror ending (hey, how else do you think someone “found the footage?”), but at the same time it’s a drama about a man stuck in a thankless job who’s come to relate to the very things he’s been hired to dispose of.
As a foreign film, it’s all subtitled, something off-putting to many viewers, but it’s worth it (seriously, not everything needs to be dubbed into American English, folks). This is one of those rare gems that people look for but rarely find due to limited releases and a lack of marketing funds. Fortunately, the annual pursuit of yearly awards in cinematic achievement allows a spotlight to be shown on films such as these, and this one is well worth the troll hunt to find.
(four skull recommendation out of four)