Saturday, October 25, 2014

HubrisWeen, Day 20: Troll Hunter (2010)

With so many mythical and legendary monsters in the world, it's amazing that so few actually get featured in films on a regular basis. We tend to see the same few creatures like vampires, werewolves, demons, and ghosts. Films that feature other monsters of legend are much sparser.

What about goblins? No love for banshees? Don't forget fairies--have you actually heard about some of the terrifying shit they get into?

And of course, there are trolls.

Not the infuriating, often racist or misogynistic variety found on message boards and in article comments. No, I mean the real deal: big ugly suckers that challenge billy goats for the use of bridges and turn to stone in sunlight. There really haven't many troll horror movies that I can think of. There's pretty much Troll and this movie.

[Troll 2 is about goblins, so that doesn't count]

I bet if I told you that there was a movie about a man who hunts trolls, you wouldn't immediately guess that it was a found footage movie. Yet that is precisely what Troll Hunter is. Thankfully, it's a good found footage movie.

We open with a title card from a Norwegian television company explaining that they received the following footage anonymously. At first it was thought to be a sick joke, but to the best of their experts' determinations, the footage is genuine.

Three film students--Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), the director; Johanna (Johanna Mørck), the sound engineer; and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen)--are tracking a man they think is a bear poacher. Wherever they go they're a few steps behind the mysterious Hans (Otto Jespersen). At the latest bear kill they interview Finn Haugen (Hans Morten Hansen), head of the Norwegian Wildlife Board. Finn is rather hilariously anxious to dismiss the claims of local hunters that the bear tracks aren't normal. So something is already not adding up.

The trio catches up to Hans as he boards a ferry, but he is not interested in talking to them. Following him to his campsite, they wait until he leaves after dark and follow his land rover to a gate where a sign warning passersby to keep out because it's a blast area. Ignoring the sign, they open the gate, drive until their small car can't handle the roads and they continue on foot. Johanna is hearing strange, animalistic noises through her boom mic, and then there are strange flashes of light in the forest ahead of them. Suddenly Hans, carrying a huge flash bulb, bursts out of the brush. He takes one look at them and hollers, "Troll!"

The trio don't bother to question him about what the hell he was on about until after they've stopped running in terror. Thomas got separated and when Hans reappears with Thomas, the young man explains that something in the darkness grabbed him and bit him on the shoulder. He didn't see what, though. Hans tends to Thomas's wounds, ignores the questions about why he was shouting about trolls, and urges them to ride back with him. They quickly realize they have no choice when they find their car turned on its side, covered in a viscous slime, and its tires missing--apparently torn right off the wheel rims.

After they finally get Hans to admit that he really did mean "troll", they convince him to let them follow him. He agrees under the condition that they listen to his every request. The next night he takes them out but first asks if any of them are Christian, since the trolls will react violently to the smell of Christian blood. None of them are, but Hans still instructs them to go down to a mountain stream, bathe themselves, and then rub something he calls "troll stench" on their clothes to mask their human smell. They reluctantly agree.

Hans carries the flash bulb into the woods as the trio follow. He explains that the "flash gun" is a sun lamp, since UV light kills all trolls. Some turn to stone and others explode. They find some troll tracks, specifically trees torn apart and urine everywhere. Hans calls someone on the phone, explaining he has a "Ringlefinch" that has gotten chased out of its territory, is marking like crazy, and is acting weird. Whoever's on the other end suggests they'll need a blood sample to determine why. Hans doesn't like the sound of that and explains to the others that he was talking to a veterinarian.

Once they reach a clearing, Hans promises to flush the troll toward them. Johanna, Thomas, and Kalle begin to wonder if he's playing a prank on them until they hear the weird noises and see the flashes of light again. Hans comes running back, exclaiming that he's rousted the wrong troll and it's a "Tosserlad." As it turns out, a "Tosserlad" is about two stories tall, with skin like tree bark and three heads. (Well, one real head and two "protuberances", we'll later find out) That's all the students need to see before they bolt into the woods. Johanna gets separated bu the others make it Hans's car, where Hans gets up on the roof and shines a bright UV spotlight onto the troll--which promptly turns to stone. Johanna turns up, unharmed and excited like the others.
"Suddenly, I think he wasn't kidding about trolls."
Hans is annoyed because one of the group must be a Christian, per the troll's reaction to them. Thomas confesses he sang in a choir as a child but he doesn't believe now, and that satisfies Hans well enough.

Hans breaks the troll into gravel with hammers, jackhammers, and explosives. Come daybreak, a car pulls up and out pops Finn. He is not pleased by the sight of the camera. And then a van pulls up full of Polish workers who brought a dead bear--only it's the wrong kind of bear. Finn grumpily sets abut making fake tracks to the bear's corpse, as this is apparently the official cover story for troll attacks. And two German tourists are missing, which may be the fault of that Ringlefinch that Hans is tracking.

Over breakfast Hans explains that being a troll hunter is a government job as part of the TSS (Troll Security Service), complete with "slayed troll" forms, and that it's a fairly thankless one. Which is part of why he doesn't care if the fact that trolls are real gets out to the public. He's been disenfranchised with the job since the 1970s, when he was sent to eliminate all the trolls in a designated habitat because there was a public tunnel being built--even though the job usually only requires the killing of trolls that venture into human territory.

Hans goes over the various types of trolls with the group, specifically the two main varieties: woodland trolls and mountain trolls. There are variious subgroups but they're all basically predators, all mammals, all vulnerable to sunlight, and all terribly stupid. So stupid that Hans once saw one try to eat its own tail.

Hans tracks his Ringlefinch to a bridge where he uses two sheep and a goat as bait. (Why they weren't all goats is beyond me) Hans then dons some clunky homemade armor and grabs a giant syringe, intent on using it to get a blood sample. When the Ringlefinch takes the bait and eats one sheep, Hans lets the other animals go and uses a bucket full of Christian man's blood to lure the troll onto the bridge.

And no, we do not find out how he got that bucket of blood.

The Ringlefinch is smaller than the Tosserlad and is missing an arm, but it still easily knocks Hans out and tries to gnaw on his head. Hans survives, though, and after regaining consciousness he follows the Ringlefinch back under the bridge--and then the crew finds out what it looks when a troll that explodes is hit with sunlight.
"People buy them when they're little and cute, then release them under bridges when they get big."
But Hans got his blood sample and takes it to the veternarian. Then it's off to a farm where some trees were mysteriously uprooted. Per Hans it appears to be the work of a pack of Mountain Kings, or Dovregubben. He tracks the trolls to an abandoned mine that the Dovregubben are using as their lair. The lair is empty, but unfortunately the trolls return unexpectedly. The group is trapped in a small crevice where the trolls can't see them. And then Kalle starts to panic and rub all the group's "troll stench" on himself until it runs out. You see, Kalle is a Christian and didn't think to mention it until now.

Well, his panicking means that he's sweating and that means that the trolls can smell him. Hans uses is flash gun to stun the trolls long enogh for the group to flee--but Kalle is weighed down by the camera that he didn't think to drop and ends up in the back. So we have a pretty good idea what happens to him when the camera suddenly stops short of the mine entrance and the safety of the dawn sunlight outside and we hear roars, screams, and crunching just before the camera falls to the ground below and cuts off.

"Rar! Trolls hate raves!"
When the camera comes back on the lens is cracked. Hans says he'll go back in later to kill all the trolls but he understands if the other two don't want to follow him onto the next leg of his mission. However, apparently seeing their friend eaten by trolls is not enough to dissuade Johanna and Thomas from seeing this thing through.

A new camera operator--and camera--is brought in, in the person of Malica (Urmila Berg-Domaas). Malica is a Muslim but Hans shrugs and says he's not sure how trolls will react to that. Off-camera, Thomas catches Mallica up on what they're really doing, since she was recruited under the assumption the crew was tracking musk-oxen. Malica is understandably skeptical, but goes along with it.

Hans heads into one of the big troll territories high in the tundra, certain that this one is where the trouble started. He explains that the high-tension towers on the edge of the territory are really electric fences to keep the trolls in. And, as the group settles in to a cabin inside the troll territory, Hans reveals he thinks that the cause of all the trouble may be a Jotnar, the biggest of the trolls. Hans gets a call from the vet--the Ringlefinch had rabies, and no doubt so did all the other trolls that have been displaced by the Jotnar. Not only does this mean that they maybe they're about to run afoul of a giant, rabid troll: it means Thomas has rabies from that bite he got.

There's no time to take him to a hospital, however. In one of the film's best shots, the group sees out the cabin window that the rabid 200-foot tall Jotnar is approaching their position. The sun is rising soon, but will it be soon enough? Can Hans kill it with his weapons or is it too much even for that? This is a found footage movie, after all, so there's no guarantee they'll survive...

"Holy crap. Is it too late to volunteer to hunt gnomes instead?"
Found footage films always start with a test that the film must pass in order to keep the viewer engaged: why the hell is somebody filming this and why would they keep filming? As discussed in a previous example of the format, if you fail to answer these questions adequately, you pull the audience out of your story.

Troll Hunter succeeds because it gives acceptable answers to those two questions by making the story about a film crew. It then succeeds past then because of the strength of its concept and characters. Oh, sure, the students are almost non-existent as far as characterization goes. But we're not really here for them, we're here for Hans and he is a fantastic character. Otto Jespersen, apparently a well-known comedian in Norway, imbues Hans with a very complex yet simple personality. Hans is weary of his duty but soldiers on and does it the best he can. He seems serious most of the time, yet there's an unmistakable under-current of humor to him as well.

We're also here for the trolls, which understandably we don't see all that often. But when we do, they're marvelous. All of them are based on folk drawings of trolls, and in the case of the Mountain Kings, they look like something Jim Henson might have created. They look really good, too, never looking like they just escaped from the SyFy Channel. Amusingly their very traditional nature makes them unique--we've all seen trolls that look like these, but never chasing a film crew around!

As a found footage film, it also never wears out its welcome. The shaky cam is kept to an almost unreasonable minimum and the film makes certain to film as much of the gorgeous Norwegian countryside as it can.

The film is also notable for the fact that, while it contains a lot of comedy, it never treats its material as a straight up joke. Making this film a zany, madcap romp wouldn't fit and the filmmakers realize this and balance the humor accordingly. I mean, how many found footage films in American cinema have ended on a joke that wasn't mean-spirited in some way?

I can't recommend this film highly enough.

This concludes day 20 of HubrisWeen! Check out what the other maniacs chose for T by clicking the banner above.