Writer-director André Øvredal’s film begins with a sober disclaimer. What follows, we’re told, is a chronologically assembled, unretouched trove of haphazard documentary footage, gathered by a group of now-missing students. To the question of whether the world really needs another mock-doc monster movie, Øvredal’s offhand answer is implied: Well, have a look.
That this comes from Norway and is called “Trollhunter” does somehow mitigate the tiredness of its conceit. Let’s allow that disparate cultures sometimes find their folklores linked not just by common tropes but also by bizarrely overcomplicated constructions — in this case, the narrative compression of exaggerated verisimilitude and deliberately distressed production values. Framing up another “Blair Witch” or “Cloverfield” ripoff (with an important dash of deadpan “Spinal Tap” cheek) might actually be the best, most universal way to do this.
The purported young documentarists are front man Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), sound recordist Johanna (Johanna Mørck) and rarely glimpsed cameraman Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen), collectively an affable and well-integrated group. With their neophyte enthusiasm abbreviated and abstracted just so by the requisite shaky camerawork and choppy cutting, they appeal to us instead of grating. Already this is better than it would be if made by Americans.
What began for the trio as a bland exposé on bear poaching, we observe, soon took a turn for the strange, into the dusky realm of trolls and the people who hunt them. Or, well, the one person who hunts them: a gruff loner called Hans (Otto Jespersen), who slathers himself with protective troll stink and ventures into the woods alone after dark, toting huge UV ray guns with which to turn the beasts into stone or blow them up. (Later, a troll-pitying veterinarian will explain how that works.) After which, Hans wearily sits down to a pile of paperwork. It would seem that he’s really just another disgruntled state worker, stuck in a feeble bureaucratic conspiracy and presided over by just another self-evidently officious boss (Robert Stoltenberg).
Having brushed the filmmakers off at first, Hans decides it’s in the national interest, or at least his own, to give them a good look at his working life. This allows for some very endearing lines of dialogue, like, “Let’s go find that Ringlefinch before he eats every animal in the country.” The Tosserheads and Jotnars, meanwhile, present their own sets of problems. All the trolls are charmingly preposterous, each in its special way a lumbering quasi-Sendakian hodgepodge of the wooly and the bulbous.
They’re palpably menacing too, as should be expected from the highly aggravated original inhabitants of this striking wilderness. Øvredal’s real star is Norway itself, and he might just as easily have gone the fake-nature-documentary route. This way’s better, though; this way also gives us a peek at how that country might contrive and later unpack its own kooky mythology. Have a look.