Thursday, 15 September 2011

Troll Hunter (André Øvredal, 2010) Review

"That ain't no bear..." The found footage sub-genre reaches Norway in Troll Hunter (2010)

Editing has always been a big problem for the faux-documentary format. Suspension of disbelief is essential in buying into the handheld technique, but it's never quite made sense to me why scientists and spectral investigators need to watch scenes of squabbling couples to further their paranormal/alien research. I'll say one thing: it's a good job they've been taught the conventions of narrative cinema, because their work has produced some major box office draws. Troll Hunter makes an interesting attempt to acknowledge this inherent genre flaw, stating in its opening title card that the film has been cut by Filmkameratene A/S, a Norwegian production company (who are, fittingly, the company behind Troll Hunter). This way it makes sense that the footage follows narrative convention, and that we're watching it in a cinema rather than, say, Area 51. Am I being pedantic? Maybe. Yet it's always bothered me.

But from that opening title card I knew not to worry about Troll Hunter - Øvredal's film knows exactly what it's doing. It's sure-footed in a way too few movies are, and its vision of a mythic Norwegian landscape is beautifully realised. Its mise-en-scène, if such a term isn't too academic for a movie with a troll farting scene, is impeccable, and designed to shush the found footage naysayers such as myself. The single fault might lie in the action sequences, which follow definite character logic. Naturally our protagonists' first instincts are to run from the trolls, but that also means that perspective shifts away from the action and all we're left with is shaky-cam footage of their woodland escape route. This is probably a reflection of budget more than anything, but it can be a little dispiriting that every set-piece anti-climaxes in an off-camera event, signaled through roars, screams and explosions. That can be effective, largely because of the excellent sound design, but the trolls are so impressively designed that we want to see more of them.

Formidable mammals with a calcium deficiency, these monsters are terrifying and yet strangely sympathetic. We learn of a massacre in the 1970's intended to wipe out the troll community - mothers and newborn babies included. At one point a veterinarian discusses how much pain trolls experience in the calcification process (this can be trigged by an overexposure to ultraviolet light), and the scene carries an odd poignancy. They're only trying to build a way of life, it seems, but have been shuffled away and imprisoned by humans. It helps that the trolls have been realised with incredible CGI, and carry genuine weight. Many pixellated beasties feel entirely separate from the in-camera action, which of course they literally are, but the desired effect is opposite - the audience must register them as an authentic threat, existing before the characters eyes. Øvredal, on an absurdly shoestring budget, has somehow sidestepped this problem and created wholly believable creatures. Because the trolls have a tangible reality we are able to feel for and react to them. They're proof (if proof were ever needed) that a film doesn't need to cost $200,000,000 to entertain. With the clarity of 2D and an intelligent screenplay Troll Hunter has confirmed itself as one of the year's most entertaining films, and it will inevitably gather a cult following. For once that's a fact we can celebrate...

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