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"Trollhunter" is a Fantastic, Fun and Potentially Accidental Satire

by Christopher Campbell
August 23, 2011 1:00 AM
4 Comments
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This review was originally posted from the Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2011. It has been reposted for the film's home video release.

There are obvious comparisons to be made between "Trollhunter," a Norwegian found-footage-style mockumentary, and films like "Blair Witch Project" and "Cloverfield" (check out Eric Kohn's rave review). But don't let the thinly treading trend worry you, because this one is easily the most entertaining of the bunch. I also consider it a closer relative to last year's underrated low-budget sci-fi movie "Monsters," not in terms of plot or style but because this film similarly does quite amazing things with its apparently low production cost. The trolls do at times look pretty silly and Harryhausen-esque, but that is mostly due to the difficulty in accepting such fantastical creatures in a movie otherwise meant to feel like documentary. Those disappointed by "Monsters," by the way, will appreciate how much more action and spectacle is to be found here. Far less character development, however.

Another reason I wish to reference "Monsters" is because of the political satire subtext of "Trollhunter," concerning Norwegians citizens' criticisms against power lines running through the nation's landscape. While "Monsters" has been slammed for being overly blatant in its border/immigration metaphors, the corresponding political allegory of "Trollhunter" is so far from transparent it might have in fact been accidental. The fact that the use of satirically edited footage from a press conference in the very end is said to have been a last-minute decision (it had to be given that it occurred a year after the film was shot), there's reason to believe filmmaker Andre Øvredal ever intended for such a comic commentary on current events.

Still, I wonder if the satire was always there and then it kind of turned a corner with the sudden use of real news footage. One of the best things about "Trollhunter" is how beautiful the Norwegian landscapes look on screen. It might be some of the best-looking digital cinematography I've ever seen with regards to capturing gorgeous scenery. And before the power lines are even mentioned or shown, it's clear that the trolls serve as another kind of blemish on an otherwise amazing backdrop. They're ugly and threatening, not unlike power lines (and offshore oil fields, which aren't seen in the movie but which are called The Troll Fields).

But then eventually actual electrical towers show up, huge and monstrous themselves. The young documentary filmmakers are told by Trollhunter Hans that they're not in fact power lines, but part of an electrical fence system put up to keep the trolls confined and the people of Norway safe. Just as is stated out of context in the press conference, the people may complain about the towers' existence, but it's for something the people wouldn't rather do without (in reality electricity, in fantasy safety from being eaten by trolls). So both the creatures and the towers are representing the same thing, which is the towers, only differently than how they're really explained.

I love, by the way, how Øvredal ridicules the people who easily accept the government's defense and explanation. He has it revealed that the power lines do not even connect to the people, running instead in a circle, and never questioned why by the men monitoring the system. There also seems to be a bit of religious satire going on in the film, stuff about trolls really disliking Christians, which they're able to smell more than atheists. I'm not sure how these jokes fit in politically, though, and would love to hear from any Norwegians out there who have a better idea or vantage point.

Anyway, "Trollhunter" is first and foremost a fun and highly entertaining monster movie, more thrilling than "Monsters" (yet less engaging, for me, I still prefer "Monsters") and more tongue-in-cheek than most other horror/sci-fi mockumentaries. Highly recommended.

“Trollhunter” is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Recommended If You Like: "Monsters"; "The X-Files"; "Blair Witch Project"


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4 Comments

  • viking | February 18, 2011 10:18 AMReply

    Christianity came relatively late to Norway, and was not fully accepted before the battle by Stiklestad in 1030 (where King Olav - who became a saint - was killed). Trolls however, were part of the norse mythology. After King Olavs death, the symbols and practices of norse mythology were mercilessly persecuted by the church. Despite this, some people preferred the old faith. It was probably in those times the word arose, that trolls hate the blood of christians. Perhaps it started with followers of the old faith telling their children good night stories?

    Today many norwegian christians fell themselves ridiculed. I don't know of course, but hypothetically this could be one of the facets "The Troll Hunter" offers.

  • Ola | February 5, 2011 10:26 AMReply

    That's right. I'm norwegian, and the Trolls always says "Jeg luker kristenmanns blod", which means "I smell a Christian mans blood".

    Really good movie btw.

  • Peter Haakonsen | January 25, 2011 7:13 AMReply

    Great review, it's always fun to hear positive feedback on norwegian films. I can enlighten you about some of the references in this movie. In the old norwegian folktales/fairytales, the trolls could smell the blood of christians, and this is a famous quote from "Soria Moria castle" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soria_Moria_Castle

    For more facts, read about the folktale collectors Asbjornsen & Moe http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asbjørnsen_and_Moe

    You can also check out the artist Theodor Kittelsen. He made illustrations to these tales when they were collected in the late 1800s, and his drawings of the trolls has influenced our opinion on how they should look. Kittelsens drawings has therefore been an important influence on how the trolls were designed for this film. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodor_kittelsen

  • Corasan | January 25, 2011 7:09 AMReply

    I don't think any specifically religious satire is intended - it is simply another reference to the traditional Norwegian fairy tales, where the troll always knows the hero is nearby, because it can "smell the blood of a Christian". At the time the tales originated, this was pretty much synonymous with "human", but the film takes a more literal interpretation for comedy's sake.

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