Film Review: Troll Hunter
The year is 2011 and a CGI monster, one hundred feet tall, bellowing and stomping as the earth itself appears to quiver before its might. In the cinema of 2011 this is a scene from an independent, micro-budget picture made by an ex-commercials director. Like Monsters before it the achievement is certainly impressive, but unlike Monsters (which contrasted a genuinely tender romance in the face of marauding giant octopus), the dramatic appeal is missing. Admittedly Troll Hunter aims for some comedic appeal, setting it apart from the likes of Cloverfield, Blair Witch etc. Unfortunately it misses the mark with its characters, none of which are developed in any way that would otherwise inspire empathy. Let’s put it this way, they’re not even appealing as troll fodder.
The film is yet another addition to the ever expanding genre of the false document horror movie and as is the case with most trends, the gag is wearing perilously thin. Notwithstanding the nagging issue of documentary tool becoming a first person perspective (or vice versa? I’m so confused), the narrative ploy of ‘found footage’ has been so overused that by the time the events unfold we have been strapped to the rails of the world’s most generic rollercoaster. One that we are invited to ride at least twice every year, each time we are promised a new thrill, which only ever turns out to be a variation on the same old rope. ‘Step right up folks to see a classic monster trope obscured by a handheld camera!’ The visual effects are certainly to be admired, but such is an over-saturated marketplace where everybody else has their own Cloverfield, where being able to master the painstaking process of compositing a CG monster into wobbly handheld photography (match-moving) is an essential, commonplace and popular skill required for any budding CG artist. Troll Hunter has nowhere else to peddle its gimmick after the first troll sighting, and without a human crutch to lean on (unlike Monsters) the film topples over and is left to twitch.
The film also sets about in attempting to create a credible ecology of ‘real’ trolls; apparently trolls react abnormally to vitamin D, thus turning to stone or in some cases combustion of the decidedly gooey kind. The problem, as is also the problem with the monsters of Underworld and Blade, is in the cod-scientific rationale. Isn’t the appeal in folkloric creatures in their mythical attributes? The principle behind why these characters must be ‘grounded in reality’ is fundamentally superficial, we’re told it is done because ‘it makes it real for the audience’. The extent to which this is a flawed premise is comparable to why overt stylisation becomes boring; fantasy narratives need to emphasise via contrast e.g. ‘night and day/black and white’. Thus rationalising everything as ‘real’ equates to a one sided experience because of its single minded rhetoric, equivalent to prolonged exposure to the same shade of grey.
The director André Øvredal has referenced the mighty Jurassic Park as an overriding influence (more evidence can be witnessed in scenes featuring sacrificial lambs being offered as troll bait, trembling footsteps and of course, the de rigueur monster-in-the-rear-mirror shot), his mistake though is unlike this film, Jurassic’s genetically engineered raison d’être worked because dinosaurs are real creatures therefore the prospect of cloned dinosaurs seemed (at the time at least) to be excitingly credible.
In conclusion, we have no reason to care. The attempt to biologically explain trolls backfires as we don’t believe what we are looking at. Troll Hunter fundamentally falls short as a piece of entertainment; it’s an uninvolving and criminally boring experience.