When you’re attending a movie event as large as Empire’s Big Screen there will inevitably be an element of luck in what you see. This afternoon I made all the right choices. I saw Troll Hunter, complete with a Q and A with the director and co-writer (André Øvredal) and its lead, Thomas (played by Glenn Erland Tosterud).
Troll Hunter is not only a celebration of Norwegian culture, fairy tales and all, it is an inspired piece of film-making. It’s not just good, it’s very good, and the news at the Q and A that Hollywood is seeking to make an Americanised version was rightly met with boos. It might be low budget, it might have subtitles, but Troll Hunter knows exactly where it’s taking its audience and they are more than happy to be led.
Three University students set out to follow and make a documentary about the mysterious Hans (Otto Jespersen), a bear-hunting hero. However, as the crew gets closer they realise that their subject may have little to do with bears. The footprints don’t match, sometimes even the species of caught bear doesn’t match the locality, and what about all that slime and stench? And then there’s the slashes and rents along the sides of Hans’ land rover.
Persistence pays off and eventually Thomas and his filmcrew win over the support of Hans. Not least because he might need another pair of hands to finish off the four types of ‘lost’ troll that are being pushed out of their remote mountain or forest territories into deadly contact with humans. An unknown force is the cause.
The film is presented as a documentary with Thomas the reporter, accompanied by his cameraman and sound woman. This format conjures up memories of Cloverfield, Monsters and The Blair Watch Project but it fits the premise of Troll Hunter perfectly. Just like Thomas, we want to know what is going on in the forests.
Through our guide Hans, we learn the basics. Trolls can smell Christian blood. Human scent can be masked by covering the body in troll stench but singing Christian songs and spillingn Christian blood is a sure way to spark an attack.
Trolls are, however, stupid. But they also live in family groups, they live for centuries (so long that some of them may grow more than three heads), they have mates and children – in fact, they only have one child. They are extremely territorial but sometime the different species come together in remote battlefields. Their presence can be detected by landslides, avalanches and earthquakes. They can be trapped with coal and rocks, their favourite food that’s not a goat. And if they are hit by daylight, their body will be transformed into calcium and they will crumble at your feet. That’s the fate of the old trolls. The younger trolls simply explode.
What makes Troll Hunter particularly original is the tragedy of the whole story. There are moments of humour and sheer riculousness (watching Hans the hunter approach a troll in some kind of fake medieval armour for instance while he also complains about his working hours and lack of rights) but there is a deep sadness at work here as we learn more about the species of troll that inhabits Norway.
But there is much here to make you laugh – the TSS or Troll Secret Society, the paperwork that surrounds the death of a troll, the faked evidence of bear killers, and much more. But the strength here is that no matter how much we fear the trolls, we also pity them.
The trolls here are marvellous. During the Q&A we were informed that the actors wore pounds of extra weight on every linb. Emphasis was put on recreating the moovement of these animals. Despite the low budget, each species of troll is believable and is frightening. And yet we feel for them. Their deaths are agonising.
The Norwegian scenery mixed with trolls ripping down trees, throwing boulders at fellow trolls, chasing humans through caves and the forest undergrowth, feasting on goats, sheep and bulls, is evocative of centuries of myth-telling.
During the Q&A, the director André Øvredal said that there was ‘never an intent to make them into monsters’, the trolls are more important that that: ‘I’m very fond of these trolls’. The film has presented Norwegian culture to the rest of the world but the idea behind it was very simple. It’s ‘a character documentary about a guy who does a job.’ It might be troll hunting but he still has to deal with bureaucracy. He still worries about his pension.
The atmosphere of Troll Hunter is superb, matched only by the beauty of the Norwegian setting. The wit of the script is likewise matched by the ambivalence of our attitude towards these monstrous and yet appealing bests. Troll Hunter was made in just six weeks. The result is extraordinary.
We were told that ideas for a sequel are already knocking around. It is true to say indeed that I am looking forward far more to that sequel than to any American reworking.