There are three things about Trollhunter that will allow its target audience to make a decision before finishing this paragraph.
1) It’s being released by Magnet, which handles the foreign releases for Magnolia Pictures.
2) It’s a Finnish film [subtitled] that mixes pre-Christian legends with black humor.
3) Chris Columbus has already acquired rights to remake it for Hollywood, which means the clock is ticking.
Trollhunter is a handicam documentary in the now-expansive genre of “Blair Witch-alikes,” though it is thankfully better-shot and more interesting than that particular forefather. Three college students set out on a school project to find a local bear poacher, who turns out to be hunting… well, I won’t spoil it, but let’s just say it’s not bear.
The film is a re-examining of childhood fantasy tales as projections of real-world phenomena, and if that sounds familiar it’s because it’s recently been a popular starting point for what feel like quite a few films. It’s a decent base on which to build a narrative, because you get to work with something that the entire audience is already familiar with. You don’t need to set up a new universe and populate it with fantastic creatures; the universe is ours and the creatures are pre-molded.
Trolls are pretty much the regional cryptid of the Nordic countries, with a legacy stretching back hundreds of years and including such highlights as battles with members of the Norse pagan pantheon, slaughtering Christians, eating naughty children, and generally just being giant badasses. Think of a cross between Greek titans, Tibetan yeti, and the Jersey devil, and you’ll have an idea both of their ferocity and prevalence in local culture.
Fortunately there’s enough exposition to keep us foreigners up to speed with what Finns might consider common knowledge, e.g. what trolls like and don’t like (eating rocks, Christians), and although the film is refreshing for its Finnishness it never feels disorienting.
What may be disorienting, however, is the beauty of the countryside. The improvement in digital technology means a film no longer has to be unwatchably amateurish to pass as non-professional, and as the camera crisply records the vast wooded valleys, smoky mountain crags, and frozen expanses of tundra, it isn’t hard to believe that trolls could still roam such alien domains.
That belief may become a bit… shaken when the first troll actually trundles onto the screen, because CGI technology still has a ways to go before its generated beings are able to convincingly interact with their environment. Still, the effects were more than serviceable for what seemed like a relatively small and inexpensive production, easily surpassing those of Monster.
Although the “found footage with untraceable sources” vein has been tapped so many times that it’s become anemic and scarred (and there was one shot in particular that could have been ripped from the similarly-premise’d REC) I found Trollhunter brought enough new material to the table that it stood out on its own merits. It’s an enjoyable 1:45 slice of Finnish mockudrama with a hint of black comedy, and I encourage you to see it if that sounds even the least bit appealing.
Ticket and showtime information can be found at the Gateway Film Center’s site.
And remember: They serve booze.