The “found footage/faux documentary” subgenre has been around long enough now that we should understand how and why it works. But Trollhunter is evidence that perhaps we don’t.
Norwegian writer/director André Ovredal comes up with a solid-enough premise: A trio of Volda college film students (Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Morck and Tomas Alf Larsen) are initially putting together a documentary about a guy they think is a bear poacher. But as they follow the man, Hans (Otto Jespersen), they discover that he has targets besides bears in his sights. He’s a troll hunter, an operative assigned by a covert Norwegian government agency to deal with actual trolls when they stray from their remote habitat into populated areas.
One of the principal benefits of the “found footage” gimmick is that it creates a fundamental unease in viewers who might guess in a conventional film when the big scare is going to come.
But Trollhunter never seems particularly concerned with being scary; it feels as though 90 percent of the film is devoted to the student filmmakers interviewing Hans about the minutiae of troll behavior and hunting protocol. Ovredal does a nice job of establishing his troll mythology—including a scientific basis for why sunlight turns them to stone—and Jespersen turns in a nicely world-weary performance, but the details aren’t nearly fascinating enough to make up for the lack of serious troll-dodging.
Nor does it seem that Ovredal is entirely clear whether he wants Trollhunter to be legitimately suspenseful or merely a goofy lark. The look of the creatures is more Muppet-like than frightening; there’s a weird aside involving a Polish immigrant helping frame a bear for the trolls’ livestock killings, and when there is a fatality, the response of the other characters doesn’t feel remotely like what real people would do. If there’s one thing you really need from “found footage,” it’s the sense that it could actually be real.
Otto Jespersen, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Morck