From the land of the fjords, home of the vikings and A-Ha, comes Trollhunter; a film that’s been slowly generating a geek buzz since debuting in Norway some time back. Adopting a found footage, mockumentary aesthetic beloved of low budget genre filmmakers, director AndrÃ© Ã˜vredal positions the audience alongside a group of film students making a documentary about bear hunting. Only, inevitably, that’s not what they end up documenting as they cross paths with the mysterious Hans (Otto Jespersen), the trollhunter of the title, guarding the Norwegian populace against the unknown threat of trolls.
From that simple premise, so much is wrung from the concept. We’ve seen monster flicks made this way before (most recently in Cloverfield) but the ace up Trollhunter’s sleeve is that it builds the entire concept up around existing mythology and folk tales that we’re all familiar with. Tales like The Three Billy Goats Gruff are given sly nods and, while they’re not to the tricksy characters of legend, these are the trolls we’ve grown up hearing about in fairy tales. They exist, albeit given a more savage spin, and need to be monitored by a shadowy government agency.
It’s all tremendous fun, building up slowly to a gradual reveal of the trolls themselves using some wonderful, underplayed visual effects. Ranging from lumbering, psychotic killers to 200 feet behemoths, the creature design is at once both ridiculous and fearsome with the explanation of their quirks and mythology strangely grounded in a realism that gives it an edge.
It’s all played admirably straight with suspenseful vignettes and increasingly believable incredulity from the on-screen filmmakers as the truth is revealed to them. Jespersen in particular commands the screen with his no-nonsense game hunter playing deftly with Scandinavian stereotypes in some fine comic moments while still retaining a sense of brooding menace. Watching him as he tools up in head-to-toe body armour, laden with the blood of a Christian man (another wink to the legends of yore), as he squares up to to an angry, one-armed bridge-dweller is a darkly funny joy to behold.
It’s great to see Europe making this kind of thing and once again proving that they can take on all comers in the genre stakes. It would appear the Scandinavian countries are a real hotbed for this sort of thing after Let The Right One In and, to a lesser extent, Dead Snow. Stylistically, Trollhunter might not be breaking much new ground but it does what it does very well.
It’s lean and well-paced with a series of increasingly spectacular set-pieces. It’s fantastical but grounded in reality and never comes close to outstaying its welcome. As a concept, it’s unbeatable and the execution of said concept marks this out as this year’s District 9. Hunting this one down is strongly advised.
Trolhunter will be showing at the Cameo on 22 June at 22.15, 24 June at 22.10 and 26 June at 16.15. Visit the EIFF website for more details.