Three ambitious Norwegian film students from Volda College, Thomas, Johanna and Kalle, set out to Western Norway to investigate a series of mysterious bear killings, focusing their documentary on an elusive bear poacher that goes by the name of Hans (Otto Jespersen). They interview a series of locals, who claim the man they speak of is tied to no such profession. Intrigued, they follow Hans, and on numerous occasions try to interview him. Despite his dismissal of their documentary, they persist, following him into the deep forest one night. They soon discover that the Government is using these bear attacks as a means of deterring public attention from the secret existence of formidable, and dangerous trolls.
A member of the TSS (Troll Security Service), Hans is Norway's only professional troll hunter. The Norwegian Government has protected regions in remote unpopulated territory to contain trolls. Humanity is not aware of their existence; believing troll related incidents (trampled trees, beaten cars and dead livestock) to be due to natural causes. Troll hunters are assigned to track and take down the trolls that have escaped their territories and threaten their exposure to humanity. The general public must be kept oblivious, which is no easy feat considering their rampant behaviour. Growing wearisome of his profession, and perhaps even starting to feel compassion for the creatures he is assigned to kill, the hardened, no-nonsense Hans decides to let his new companions accompany him on his missions and film the footage they now desire.
What is so great about Ovredal's film is that it is genuinely convincing. It is totally believable, watching the events unfold, that trolls could exist in a world just beyond our own. The film takes us into the dense forests, into the dark mountain caves and finally, to the remote snow plains, as we watch these students document this staggering proof. As the film progresses, we learn more and more about the history of trolls, the government's commitment to confining them, and Hans' professional requirements (including the filing of a dossier after each troll killing).
We learn that there are many different species of trolls, and that flashing them with powerful ultraviolet rays with either turn them to stone or cause them to explode. The Troll Hunter is also darkly comic and infused with a great sense of humour. Jespersen's droll performance is the most memorable. Awkward around the camera, he is portrayed as a natural, capable, regular guy. Never considering himself a hero (though he really is), he just gets the job done. The students possess likeable qualities that are so rarely found in the protagonists of these type of films.
The plot was a little flat, the progression a little episodic and structured, but that isn't to say that the film doesn't have its surprises. Each troll they encounter seems to be more dangerous than the last and reveals something new to the students and their documentary about the type of trolls that exist, and the dangers of Hans' profession.
Like The Blair Witch Project, the film is comprised entirely of shaky hand-held cinematography and intermittent sound. Often shifting to night vision for dramatic effect, the film is not especially scary, nor particularly intense. There is some sensational footage, and their desperation in evading the series of troll attacks is convincing. The dark forests of Western Norway and the ice plains of Jotunheim are beautifully captured and really aid in building this surreal atmosphere.
Ovredal is not shy about revealing his monstrous antagonists. Plenty of coverage is assigned to the trolls, and while you expect the film to become somewhat monotonous (considering we see the first troll quite early), each troll encounter is strikingly different. These encounters are broken up by a series of interviews, often with Hans, that reveal the political necessities of his profession, his knowledge on trolls and their behaviour, and why he wants out. The quality of the visual effects varies, but for a film made on such a low budget, they are very effective.
The concluding sequences are amazing. I was reminded of a video game I played some years back called Shadow of the Colossus, which featured a man-sized character having to take down a giant creature by climbing up its body and finding weak points. As you rode toward these beasts, you found it hard to fathom ever bringing one of them down. If you have played this game, this knowledge won't act as a spoiler, but should heighten your excitement to see this clever, darkly comic and thrillingly convincing Nordic film.
My Rating: 3 1/2 Stars (B-)