10 years ago, André Øvredal made his feature debut with the fast and loose found-footage monster movie Trollhunter. It was just before the found-footage fad fell off and it became something of a cult hit, the remake rights being snapped up by Chris Columbus’ production company before it even received an international release.
It follows students Thomas, Johanne, and Kalle as they investigate some suspiciously unusual “bear attacks” in the Norwegian countryside. They discover the eccentric, world-weary Hans (Otto Jespersen) and his strangely kitted out RV, complete with UV lights and “Troll stink” bars. He invites the young filmmakers to follow him and reveal his work as a troll hunter to the world as he has grown increasingly disillusioned with his treatment by the government and their policy of keeping it a secret.
The young trio set off with the initial winking among themselves you’d expect from kids humoring a colorful oddball. Which quickly turns to panicked fear when they face their first troll in the woods. Jespersen does a great job of offsetting their shock with his deadpan approach to 30-foot tall monsters. He acts much as you’d act towards finding cats going through your bins again.
From this point, the film moves through various episodic encounters with different trolls. (Apparently, they come in various shapes, sizes and with varying numbers of heads.) Each time upping the ante a little in terms of the threat faced by Hans and his hapless entourage.
Sounds Like A Job For Hollywood?
Hollywood loves a remake. Sadly, they aren’t always bothered about making a good remake or whether anyone asked for another attempt at the original. Too often, the rationale seems to be “Everyone loved that, let’s do it again.” That, unfortunately, leads to pointless movies like The Magnificent Seven (2016) or, worse yet, cinematic insults like Oldboy (2013).
If you’re going to remake a movie, you need to either pick a movie that could use a little improvement (As cool as The Rat Pack may have been, the original Ocean’s 11 was nobody’s idea of a classic) or you need to have a clear idea of the new spin you want to put on the material. Shifting the location of Infernal Affairs from Hong Kong to Boston gave The Departed its own, Oscar-winning identity.
Trollhunter is a little of both. It’s extremely Norwegian so the mooted American remake would have been a very different affair from the get-go. (Anyone carping that trolls are a Norwegian thing and wouldn’t make sense in America should remember that trolls aren’t actually real so nitpicking over veracity is silly.) It could also do with a little tightening up of the script or more experienced improvisers. So, an increased budget and a larger acting pool would have helped either way.
It could really have been a success. With the right casting, a great comic horror might have been produced. Jespersen came from a comedic background and the troll hunter’s government handler played by Hans Morten Hansen have moments of awkward humor up there with The Office. (Hansen is also a stand-up comedian and former holder of the record for the world’s longest stand-up performance.) So, a hyper-competent hunting expert who doesn’t have the patience for dealing with the amateurs surrounding him? Tell me Nick Offerman wouldn’t have knocked that out of the park.
Neil Marshall was signed up to direct, and he’s proved he can handle horror, comedy, and large-scale spectacle. Unfortunately, he became too busy with Game Of Thrones and the rights eventually reverted back to Norway. It would have been a much better move for Marshall than the Hellboy (2019) catastrophe and whatever the hell is going on with him now.
It’s Still Worth A Watch
Trollhunter is somewhere in the middle of the quality spectrum. There’s a lot of it to like. The actual troll setpieces are great. Trolls’ aversion to sunlight helps sell the special effects, if you can’t see things too clearly you can’t see if the effects are on a shoestring. Or, if you’re watching footage filmed by a running, terrified person. Trollhunter doesn’t fall into the trap of excessive camera swinging that can induce motion sickness. (Looking at you, while fighting nausea, The Blair Witch Project.) When they face the largest troll, it’s an awesome spectacle, reminiscent in a self consciously deliberate way of Jurassic Park.
There’s a “…but” coming here, and it’s that there’s quite a lot of filler in between the troll sequences. I don’t know if it’s the Norwegian sense of humor not translating well or the cast, but some of the linking scenes feel awkward in a way that isn’t deliberate “cringe comedy” and more a way that just springs from having amateur performers. That most of the cast has this as either their sole screen credit or as one of only a handful suggests the latter.
Overall, it’s not a bad creature feature for your Halloween viewing needs, and a good calling card for André Øvredal who has carved out a respectable Hollywood career off the back of it.
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