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The whole Blair Witchthing is so over. But apparently Norway didn’t get the memo, or at least not writer-director André Øvredal, whose Trollhunter begins with the missive that a film studio anonymously received hundreds of minutes of bizarre footage and investigators spent more than a year “trying to establish whether this was a practical joke or if the material was authentic.” Dramatic dark screen, then: “They concluded it was authentic.” Of course they did.
Would the film be any less enjoyable without its this-is-real! gimmick? Nope. Not that Trollhunter will be this year’s Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project, or even Cloverfield. It’s compelling enough, but not so much that you’ll want to see it again—or even think about it much once it’s over. (Though an American remake is already in the works. Naturally.) The film follows a trio of college students (Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Mørck, and Tomas Alf Larsen) who are stalking and documenting Hans, a gruff man (Otto Jespersen) whom they believe is a bear poacher. One night, they follow Hans to a no-trespassing area of fields and woods and wait for him to emerge from the trees. After what looks like lightning and sounds like bloodcurdling roars, he does, running and yelling, “Troll!” Which is pretty different than “Bear!”
Hans, who had previously told the students to stay the hell away from him, agrees to let them tag along. (Mostly we see the crew’s “anchor,” Tosterud’s Thomas, and the soundwoman, Mørck’s Johanna, though Larsen’s cameraman eventually plays a pivotal role.) But they have to do everything he says. Sure, they respond without a thought. They’re a bit more reluctant when, the next night, he tells them to prep by stripping down and scrubbing themselves in a creek, and then douses them in troll funk. And do any of them believe in God? That, at least, is an easy no.
So off they go into the woods; that no-trespassing sign was actually placed there by Hans. The ground starts shaking; there are more roars. “This is one real bad joke,” Thomas says. Nope—it’s a three-headed troll, as big as the trees, and it comes running after them.
With apologies to J.J. Abrams, the cool thing about Trollhunter is that you don’t have to wait to see its monstrosities: Mr. Multihead is shown in full view within the film’s first 30 minutes. The creature is gray, kinda scaly, and rather hideous, moving jerkily but fast and menacingly enough to make the students’ camera bob furiously as they try to escape. With a blast of sun-intense light from Hans’ equipment, however, the thing turns to stone, and Hans breaks it down to gravel. Another semi-successful night—these things are killing tourists and woodland creatures—though an otherworldly-sized Troll of All Trolls is still on the loose.
Hans, it turns out, is no loose-cannon vigilante but a weary government worker, an angle that gives Trollhunter a bit of humor. (After each kill, he must fill out a Slayed Troll form.) Otherwise, though, Øvredal has crafted a rather pedestrian monster flick: The group goes hunting, the group is in peril, the group escapes, repeat. Jespersen’s Hans is amusingly reticent, but the students are mostly unexceptional, doing little but either marveling at the secret they’ve discovered or finding themselves scared shitless.
Made for an estimated $3 million, though, Trollhunter has some impressive effects; the story may be little more than a Godzilla tale, but the trolls never look like obvious CGI or cheesy models. Better yet: Until the very end —when more text tries to convince you otherwise—they make you forget that you’re supposed to forget that this whole thing isn’t real.