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Posts Tagged ‘Otto Jespersen’

It may be my imagination, but it seems to me that foreign-language movies are much more likely to get a prominent UK release – by which I mean a release which extends beyond the doors of the local arthouse – if they’re a genre movie of some kind. Now, my memory is possibly selective – a cineaste colleague recently described me as a ‘real genre boy’ in a manner someone less easy-going might describe as condescending – but thinking back, the subtitled movies I’ve seen in the last couple of years that have been showing outside the arthouse have been Headhunters (thriller) and The Raid (headbanging action insanity). More subtle fare like Le Quattro Volte, Habemus Papam, and 13 Assassins (maybe not so subtle in the last case) have failed to break out into the mainstream.

One Norwegian film which did manage this feat, albeit briefly, was one which I was annoyed to miss last Autumn (I was busy at the time trying to teach a Syrian TV star and the national kickboxing champion of the same country how to use the past perfect). The film in question is Andre Ovredal’s Trolljegeren – anyone aware of my frequent uncertainty as to how to refer to foreign films will be delighted to learn this movie is called Troll Hunter in the UK, Trollhunter in the US, and The Troll Hunter in Canada.

This is yet another movie in the found footage style, purporting to have been assembled from some mysterious raw footage shot by three students who have inexplicably vanished. Initially setting out to make a documentary about some bear attacks, the trio cross the path of Hans (Otto Jespersen), an enigmatic and rather bad-tempered loner who always seems to be in the area when bear-related things occur. Licenced bear hunters suggest he may be a poacher, but the truth is much stranger.

Following Hans, the students discover that he is (and the title of the movie may have given you a clue in this direction) a troll hunter. Or, to be more precise, the troll hunter. Hans works for the ultra-top-secret Troll Security Service agency of the Norwegian government. Trolls exist, as a widely diverse group of peculiar creatures, most of them extremely dangerous. As long as they remain in the preserves the government maintains for them, they are tolerated – but should they wander into human territory for any reason, it falls to Hans to put them down. Initially incredulous, the students agree to film Hans as he goes about his work, regardless of the danger this may place them in…

I’m usually loath to lapse into that lazy shorthand of describing a film in terms of ‘it’s X meets Y!’, but I’ve been racking my brains and have yet to come up with a better description of Troll Hunter than the one concocted by Dr K when the film was released – he said it was ‘The Blair Witch Project as made by Frank Oz’ (Oz is, of course, the ex-muppeteer and former Miss Piggy turned director of rather variable films). It certainly falls into the same odd category as a cluster of recent films like Apollo 18 and Chronicle, in that it’s a film which utilises the ‘instant verite’ quality of the found footage/mock documentary style in the service of a story which is utter fantasy. There’s no danger of anyone being taken in for a second, runs the standard objection to this sort of thing, so why bother at all?

Well, Troll Hunter is a bit less open to this kind of criticism than the other two films I mentioned, in that while it may be a fantasy, and at times border on being a horror movie, it is also a comedy. It’s a comedy of a very particular and extremely deadpan kind, and the grave captions introducing the film and outlining its supposed background are part of this.

The film’s best jokes come from the juxtaposition of the fantastical nature of Hans’ work and the tedious minutiae of what it actually involves – having turned a troll to stone by using a UV lamp to mimic the rays of the sun, Hans has to break it up with a pneumatic drill and sell the remains off as gravel. He agrees to participate in the film not because he thinks the public will be interested or should know, but because he’s unhappy with the terms of his contract and (it’s implied) enjoys winding up his superior, who’s in charge of covering up his activities. We get a brief, hilarious glimpse of a DEAD TROLL REPORT form, a very authentic-looking piece of bureaucratic red tape he is required to complete on a regular basis.

This kind of thing will quite probably not be everyone’s idea of a rip-roaring yuk-fest, and neither will the film’s other main area of interest, which is to enthusiastically attempt to come up with a scientific rationalisation for all the fairy tale characteristics trolls traditionally have – turning to stone in the sunlight, being able to smell the blood of Christians, and so on. Even when it can’t manage a proper rationale, the film still incorporates these ideas in a peculiarly logical way.

It may be that this sort of thing is the height of broad comedy down Oslo way, but for me it had a rather unusual flavour – I suspect there is a lot of topical and cultural Norwegian satire going on here as well, a lot of which obviously went right over my head. Some things do travel, though – there’s an amusing scene in which it is revealed that the Troll Security Service has been forced to subcontract out some of its work, at which point a van full of enthusiastic but not especially effective Polish migrant workers turns up.

On the whole, though, this is a rather strange film in the way it mixes fantastical ideas and full-on CGI with subtle black humour and downbeat naturalism. The CGI is obviously very good – there isn’t a huge amount of troll screen-time, but when they’re on they’re very convincing. The cast also do well to bring as much reality to the story as they manage. But it is still essentially a one-joke film, and the mockumentary format starts to get a little bit weary after a while, with perhaps a few too many scenes of the cast wandering around after dark in the Norwegian woods. While the film has moments where it almost generates real suspense or tension, the found footage style somehow manages to get in the way of these.

I was happy to finally catch up with Troll Hunter, which indeed turned out to be the rather bizarre movie I had expected – interesting, technically impressive and drolly amusing, but really lacking in a strong central narrative. Nevertheless, I understand that, inevitably, the US remake rights have been sold. The mind boggles as to what Hollywood will do with a film like this one, but I’m prepared to bet it won’t be pretty.

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