Film Review: Troll Hunter

<i>The Blair Witch Project</i>, with trolls: Deadpan, dead-on Norwegian mockumentary is destined to be a classic of its kind.

The opening of this brilliantly straight-faced "documentary" posits that hundreds of hours of footage was mysteriously deposited at a Norwegian TV station, which then went about distilling it into the movie we are about to see. And to Troll Hunter’s credit, that's the hardest thing to believe in this undercover exposé that reveals the truth about trolls—giant, flesh-eating monstrosities of various species, normally contained within electric power-line corrals in the remotest regions of Norway but which occasionally slip out. The subject of covert scientific study by the government, they are nonetheless dispatched with extreme prejudice when they escape their confinement. That's when you call in the troll hunter—who is no Indiana Jones but a weary, workmanlike professional who has to fill out paperwork after each kill.

The second feature by Norwegian TV-commercial director André Øvredal, the faux-documentary explores the same what-if-folklore-were-real vein as the 1980s mock-encyclopedia best-seller Gnomes or the 2006 Animal Planet special Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real. Three Norwegian college students, making a school documentary about mysterious livestock deaths attributed to bears, run across what they and licensed bear-hunters believe is a poacher. After locating what they believe is that man and being gruffly rebuffed, the intrepid youngsters (“Do you think Michael Moore gave up after the first try?”) shadow him until he has no choice but to help rescue the poor fools from—as he announces in the movie's juiciest, most quotable moment, at night in the heart of the woods—a "TROOOOOOOOLLLLLL!!!" (The movie's website has a ringtone for it.)

What follows is both a remarkably suspenseful voyage—with at least three heart-stopping sequences of the building-sized beasts either lumbering after these interlopers or converging on a cave where the troll hunter and the three students are hidden—and a dry-witted commentary on the nature of expedient bureaucracy, in which even awful miracles of nature become merely something to be dealt with as case files that need to be closed so that everyone can knock off and go home.

Not that troll hunter Hans gets much chance to do that. As played by Norway's top comedian, Otto Jespersen, in what ought to be a star-making dramatic performance, he's a weary former commando who lives out of a trailer hitched to his truck and sees his job more akin to that a pest exterminator than anything else. The students—producer-interviewer Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), sound person Johanna (Johanna Mørck) and camera operator Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen)—initially find him an interesting eccentric who might lead them to the real poacher. They gradually grow to admire the unassuming, no-nonsense hunter as something of a national hero whose lifesaving accomplishments are classified and so completely unknown to the public. But now Hans, after years of being the government's only troll hunter—and, OK, that's a stretch, given the danger posed by escaped trolls—does what any fed-up, underappreciated and doubtlessly underpaid worker would do: He throws up his hands, finally tired of all the crap he takes from his bosses, and agrees to give the kids their story.

Naturally, that rouses the ire of his immediate superior, the officious Finn (Hans Morten Hansen) of the government's Troll Security Service. But in between the blustery Finn's threats, we learn all about the different kinds of trolls, how their physiology works, what habits they have, where they fall in the animal kingdom and so on—all organically in conversation, never lecture-like. By the movie's climax in the tundra, up against the most fearsome type of troll extant, we get a Jurassic Park ride of terror and heroism.

Part horror movie, part social satire, and bursting with Norway’s savage beauty—from waterfall streams on hard-chiseled cliffs to river-fed lakes in storybook valleys—this remarkable film opened to highly positive reviews in Norway last year, and rolls out in road show across the U.S., starting in Manhattan on June 10. It is destined to be a classic of its kind.