Most of the movies I review on MONSTERS CONQUER THE WORLD have been/will be from Japan or Hollyweird, usually in that order. And while those two chunks of planet Earth put out the most giant monster movies, I really get a kick out of seeing what the rest of the world chips in to the genre. This month I trek to impossibly picturesque Norway for the 2010 found-footage horror-comedy dark fantasy Trollhunter. Or Troll Hunter. Or Trolljegeren. You get the gist.
Trollhunter takes the familiar formula from movies like Ghostbusters and Men in Black and makes it uniquely Nordic. Stoic deadpan, Scandinavian social satire, down-to-Earth working people, and OH YEAH GIGANTIC FUCKING TROLLS take center stage in this kick-ass movie.
Bundle up, turn all the lights on, and don’t say your prayers, because we’re digging in to Trollhunter!
Let’s chew on a tasty-ass trailer!
This trailer plays plays up the intensity almost to the point of being over-the-top, but that’s pretty perfect for this movie. There’s another shorter trailer that skews a little more light and silly, but it doesn’t get you fucking amped like the one I posted above. Both trailers do give away a lot of great monster action and jokes, so if you’ve never seen Trollhunter and are thinking about checking it out (which you totally should, it’s on ye olde Netting Flicks) do yourself a solid and skip the trailer. Also… probably hold off on reading this review until you’ve seen it too.
As a found footage film, Trollhunter naturally doesn’t have a soundtrack beyond the bits of diegetic music we overhear and some fun tunes over the end credits. I don’t have much info on the cast and crew either, what with it being so far removed from my usual H-wood and Japan filmmaking spheres. The cast is made up of a mix of relative unknowns (to help establish the found-footage “reality”) and popular Norwegian comedians (because comedy!). Otto Jespersen plays Hans, the titular Trollhunter. Jesperson does a great job playing the gruff, world-weary loner with hidden depths and the world’s weirdest job. He’s a rumpled, effortless bad-ass, like a monster-fighting, middle-aged, shut-in Indiana Jones.
I didn’t find out until after I had seen (and loved) the movie several times that Jespersen’s also a notoriously edgy political comedian in Norway. Flag burning, encouraging murder suspects to pick off politicians, Nazi jokes/characters, all the kind of schtick that I found exciting and hilarious in my teens and twenties, but just kind of exhausting, depressing, and miserable now that I’m a little older. But that’s fine, I get it, it’s a thing, we have it here too. What made me raise an eyebrow was the public book burning he led, and a gag where he mourned the fleas and lice on Holocaust victims.
DON’T FUCKING RUIN THS MOVIE FOR ME, OTTO. I almost considered not bringing this up, or waiting until the very end to mention it. It’s a weird sour note that I wasn’t expecting, but it’s also one I’m not going to dwell on too much. I don’t really have any context for his shit, comedy doesn’t always translate, and most of all, it smacks of internet trollish (hmmmmm?) intentionally offensive shock-satire. We’ve got shit like that here too.
Whatever’s up with Jespersen, it’s time to hunt some mother-farting trolls! Trollhunter opens with some mysterious title cards for maximum realism.
It’s found footage time! Look how dead their pans are! Calling it a rough cut is a smart way to shoo away most of the elephants that hang out with you in the room every time you watch a found footage movie. Ultimately Trollhunter doesn’t do as good a job maintaining the illusion as The Blair Witch Project or even Cloverfield, but the story is so cool, fresh, funny, and exhilarating you likely won’t care.
The movie spends most of its first act building up palpably thick mystery and atmosphere. Three college documentarians (UH OH) are on the trail of a notorious “bear poacher.” Like O.G. Blair Witch (holy monkey dicks that flick casts a long shadow–though I get the feeling the TH team are purposely invoking its tropes), our hapless heroes Thomas, Johanna, and Kalle start out by gathering intel and testimony from local yokels. Said yokels are believably portrayed by likable, schlubby randos:
An ever-present co-star in the film is the brain-meltingly gorgeous Norwegian scenery. These people pump gas and buy frozen burritos in mother-fucking Valhalla like it’s not a big deal:
It isn’t long before our trio get a positive ID on Hans, the reclusive “bear poacher” who lives out of an old Land Rover and trailer, ever on the move from one campground to the next. Said trailer smells ass-nasty from a distance, and his old SUV is loaded down with strange gear and covered with bitching battle damage:
Hans gives exactly zero shits about our heroes’ documentary, and refuses to give them anything beyond the coldest of shoulders.
They persist, quickly progressing from “avid journalists” to “fucking creeps” when they secretly bug his trailer and shine night vision cameras in it while he’s gone. Finally they just start tailing him to see where he goes at night. They lose him, but the trail doesn’t go cold for long: a poached bear is conveniently found the morning after his nocturnal excursion.
This sets up one of the best gags in the movie. The bear poaching is a relevant and believable cover story for Norway natives, but while Men in Black has a huge shadowy organization utilizing sci-fi super tech to cover up their extraterrestrial emigrants, Trollhunter has one stressed-out bureaucrat named Finn (shittily) handling the facade by himself.
The gang tails Hans again the next night, and follow him way off the beaten path… into some kind of fenced-off blast zone! So naturally they press on! I mean they’re movie protagonists, not CPAs.
Deliciously, this is when Trollhunter is careful to remind us that the woods are fucking creepy and dangerous at night! Those misty, beautiful forests get real sinister shrouded in darkness. Trollhunter keeps building the mystery and tension with a searing flash of light and Hans sprinting out of the forest and losing his shit spectacularly and inexplicably.
Hans bolts off, and our stunned heroes sloppily race after him as best they can. Thomas lags behind and gets chomped into by something, but they all manage to make it back to Hans’ rad ride. Hans jabs Thomas with an Tetanus shot and patches up his gored shoulder with duct tape.
Hans won’t own up to screaming “Troll!” let alone explain why he did, and instead silently drives our documentarians back to their car. Which is now flipped over, beat to shit, and slathered with pinkish goop.
This is enough to kinda shut up the kiddos and get them to take Hans a little more seriously. He agrees to let them film him killing “whatever scratched [Thomas],” if they promise to do everything he says and not be little dicks about it. And delightfully, Hans only seems to get weirder from here:
And of course, that’s all before he orders them to strip down, scrub up in a nearby river, then smear a giant stinking booger all over their bodies:
After all that, it’s sort of understandable that they throw Hans some major shade as they follow him into the woods. Hans ignores their salty ‘tudes and sarcastic questions, but answers their real ones.
They tromp further and further into the dark forest, and Hans spots a clue. PISS! Troll piss, that is. At a glance (and presumably a sniff) Hans has a pretty good idea of the troll’s species, that it’s sick, and that it’s marking trees because it’s been pushed out of its territory. He calls it all in to a (I have to assume very open-minded) veterinarian, who asks him to get a blood sample.
The fantastical detective work is very cool. Hans is like a whacked out fantasy Blade Runner. They make it to a foreboding clearing where Hans tells them to fucking chill while he goes deeper in the woods alone to investigate. The minutes tensely tick by, and the kiddos nervously laugh to one another that Hans is probably filming them and laughing his Nordic nards (nardics?) off. Then they feel the earth shake, see trees tremble, and hear some seriously weird shit…
Tosserland up there (holy shit troll names are delightful) is achieved with small-budget CGI, but it’s so deftly masked by being shot at night and through “prosumer” cameras they end up looking dope as hell anyway. Everybody (Hans included) hauls ass to get the fuck out of there, and the troll never falls far behind as evidenced by the huge trees he knocks over in front of them.
The chase devolves into chaos, cameraman Kalle takes a tumble and switches to night vision when he realizes he no longer knows where the enormous man-eating troglodyte is. The fact that its massive, rough skinned legs look like tree trunks doesn’t make it much easier.
The trolls in this movie are 1. surprisingly accurate to classic Norwegian folklore and 2. the perfect intersection of comically weird/stupid and legitimately unsettling and threatening. With their big ugly heads, scrunched-up faces, and huge schnozzolas, they almost verge into Uncanny Valley territory.
So our Tosserlad gets bored or lost or confused or something, and our heroes get a chance to stealthily regroup by Hans’ car. Hans instructs them to duck behind his car as he climbs on top of it and starts singing Christian hymns in the troll’s general direction. Hans is trolling a troll.
The troll turns to stone once it’s blasted by Hans’ ginormous UV lights, and our trio of filmmakers go from terrified to ecstatic once they realize what they’ve just witnessed. Hans cuts their celebratory grab-assing short though: he knows the troll got the drop on them because one of them lied about not being a Christian. Thomas sputters about his parents forcing him to be in choir as a kid, but Kalle is conspicuously silent during Hans’ questioning.
The three of them understandably bombard Hans with questions. The powers that be keep the whole troll thing quiet to prevent a public panic. Hans works alone, and the kids quickly acknowledge that he’s basically Norway’s own real-life superhero. So why throw it all away with a tell-all documentary?
Hans invites them to keep documenting his exploits. He’s ready to show the world “what’s really going on.” Hans works through the night to turn the newly troll-shaped rock formation into inconspicuous rubble and meets with the eternally stink-eyeing Finn at sunrise. Not just to throw together the bear-poaching cover-up, but to share intel about his next job. But before they can hunt that next troll, it’s time for some fricking breakfast:
Breakfast… and paperwork and shop-talk:
The breakfast interview gives Hans a chance to dish out some great troll lore. The names of the different tribes and species that clash with each other, why some trolls have multiple heads, the time he saw a troll try to eat its own tail, and a little bit of Hans’ own past. We also get a good look at some of Hans’ troll sketches, and some insight into how he tracks creatures people refuse to believe in.
It’s great character building and world building, but it also segues us smoothly to Hans’ next target: THE RINGLEFINCH. When our crew arrive on the scene, Finn is already there spinning some half-baked bullshit to the crowd of horrified onlookers and news reporters.
It’s important to note that the “food” being stored in this case are the shredded bloody body parts of (formerly) missing German tourists. And the gore-pile is stashed away under a bridge and everything!
When they stake out the Ringlefinch that night, Kalle is acting weird as shit, insisting they can just get a good zoom shot for the troll from super far away. Based on first impressions, I can’t say I blame him:
One of my favorite monster moments is when the troll reaches up from under the bridge, yanks a goat down, gums it a little, then bashes it against the concrete for good measure before mowing it down.
Ghoulish goat mauling aside, Thomas and Johanna convince Kalle to join up with Hans for a closer look, but when they get there he’s in a full suit of DIY armor with a bucket of Christian blood.
He’s trolling the troll so he can get a blood sample and figure out why they’re all hot and bothered lately.
Like Tosserlad before it, the Ringlefinch sequence is a terrific balance of chills and chuckles. We know Hans knows what he’s doing, but we also know the Ringlefinch is a more brutal and hands (and mouth)-on threat than the Tosserlad. Even after the troll tries to eat him like break room birthday cake, Hans chases after him with that huge metal syringe we saw earlier. Shit gets hectic under the bridge and just off camera (Kalle’s “nah fuck this,” stance is back in full force, understandably), but it isn’t long before we see a now-familiar flash of light…
Yes, sometimes trolls turn to stone when you zap ’em with sunshine, but sometimes they burst like blood-balloons at Hannibal Lecter’s birthday party! This is a proud film tradition that Trollhunter is upholding here! Movie monsters, especially in horror-comedies and fantasies, tend to hilariously explode in a goopy mess of disgusting ooze when defeated. Trollhunter takes its rightful place alongside classics like Gremlins, Ghostbusters, Men in Black, the entire Evil Dead franchise, most Gamera movies, and so many more.
So yeah, the Ringlefinch meatsploding is grotesque, but it allows Hans to get a sizable blood sample, and allows Thomas to get bukkaked with monster guts.
Sample in tow, they meet up with Hans’ clandestine veterinarian partner. They manage to roll more world-building and character development together seamlessly in this short scene. She gives us a perfectly reasonable scientific explanation as to why sunlight turns some trolls turn to stone while it causes others to send all their precious goo flying in opposite directions. We also find out that it’s an agonizing, traumatic process for the trolls, and the vet and Hans both wish there was a better, more humane way to deal with them.
BEST of all though, on their way out we see Hans and the vet sneak a heartfelt hug. Kalle and Johanna capture it, while Thomas gives the camera a sly, knowing look. It’s great.
We get a little more downtime between hunts while Hans waits for the bloodwork to come back. These bits are so packed with clever details and insights into Hans’ weird life that they end up being just as entertaining as the actual troll hunts. They give the audience a breather and continue to flesh out the Trollhunter’s world and characters. This time we also get some tasty set up for the Jotnar, a species of earth-shatteringly huge troll that Hans has only ever seen once.
But we’re not at the end yet! No Jotnar yet! First, we have to tangle with the
LatinMountain Kings! Hans and co. investigate a farm that was hit by a “tornado,” except none of the residents ever saw or heard a tornado.
Hans figures they’re probably looking at three trolls stomping around and being assholes, so they’ll come back that night to track ’em down and put ’em down. When they return, the trail leads them into a creepy-as-fuck abandoned mine, and Kalle is 100% done-zo. Again, I don’t really blame him: the mine is a hundred times eerier and more foreboding than the spookiest woods they’ve tromped through.
Hans plays a weird little troll call and is met with silence. He confirms this is the lair of a troll pack, but they’re out for the night for rock-eating and general trollish grab-assing. Kalle demands all the troll stench on hand and starts smashing that shit into his skin furiously.
They are pretty far into the mine when Hans realizes this pack is way bigger and badder than he had initially estimated. Hans declares it’s time to fucking bail, but guess who decided to come home early tonight?
The Mountain Kings are potentially Trollhunter’s “goofy” trolls. They’re not as huge as the Ringlefinch, they’re kinda stumpy and dumpy, they still have the classic troll super-schnozz, and they get the movie’s big fart joke!
But the thing is, they’re still pretty fucking big, clocking in at like 10 feet tall, and they’re still inhumanly strong, and they’re still super, duper into ripping human beings limb from limb and eating our delicious meat and organs and bones and skin and hair. AND there’s like a zillion of these fuckers.
But wait! Our heroes aren’t necessarily bone-zoned beyond recognition! Mountain Kings, like their bigger badder cousins are dumb as shit! They’re coming home to catch some Zs, so all our guys have to do is find a quiet alcove, not wake up or piss any of them off (which includes keeping quiet while getting marinated by sleeping troll farts), and they’re home free! Hans is so chill about it he makes like the trolls and power-naps. Kalle of course, is a lot less chill.
Kalle full-on freaks out and starts praying, waking up the holy-shit-who-knows-how-many bloodthirsty trolls. The plan switches to “fuckin’ run and hope for the best!” with Hans leading the way, flash bulbing any trolls that get between them and freedom. Guess what ends up being pretty fucking scary?
Everybody makes it out into the safety of sunlight! …Except Kalle. From Kalle’s camera/POV, we see that he almost makes it out, but gets stopped, lifted high into the air, and bitten apart by an unseen troll. It’s strikingly similar to Hud’s death in Cloverfield.
They manage to recover Kalle’s camera, but the lens is cracked dramatically. It’s a powerful visual epitaph for Kalle, and it drives Johanna and Thomas to lash out at Finn and his cold-blooded bureaucracy and secrecy.
Finn gives 0 shits, gives Hans his next assignment, and peaces out. He’s a douche like that. Thomas and Johanna decide that getting this story out is the best way to honor Kalle’s sacrifice, so they hire a new camera person named Malica to keep the production moving along. Thomas makes sure to ask if she’s Christian as soon as he meets her:
It’s probably the best joke in he movie, a darkly, dryly funny moment that only works now that we’re entering the spectacular finale. It’s a crazy cocktail of ancient troll folklore, human tragedy, and straight-forward pragmatism that I’m pretty sure can only exist in this film. Nice work, dudes 👍
The film is terrific front to back, and it’s super rad that even in the final act, when they could have easily relied entirely on suspense and monster action, they still have clever jokes and troll-world-isms to bust out:
It’s funny enough on its own, but it’s even better when you find out that Powerlines are a touchy subject for real-life native Norwegians. Thanks to an (accidental) tip from a nearby power station, they’re able to narrow down the Jotnar’s location, and find a cabin to hole up in while they wait to go troll hunting at nightfall.
After the misty mountains, fjords and lush forests of the first two acts, the bleak, arctic plains of the final act are a striking change in scenery. This feels like the edge of the world, a lonely no-man’s land where maybe giants really could roam. It’s very evocative.
We get our last few big character beats in this little cabin too. Thomas has been fighting some kind of infection ever since he got bit at the beginning of the movie, and it starts super flaring up on him. Malica happens to candidly capture Hans changing his shirt, and we see his body is covered with huge, angry scars. They ask Hans why he doesn’t like to enter troll territories, and he tells them about a job he had to do in the 70s clearing sections of mountains for a road construction crew. The government forced him to kill infants, children, and pregnant females. It’s suddenly very clear why he’s so ready to quit this job and blow the whistle on the whole conspiracy.
It’s an intense moment, sort of an inverted version of Quint’s chilling tale of survival in Jaws. Like the Christian/Muslim joke a little bit earlier, it only works because they meticulously laid the groundwork for it in the first two acts, and it’s an enthralling, satisfying payoff. The trolls in this film are dangerous, bizarre predators, but they’re also natural beings that have a right to live. One of the underlying themes of Trollhunter is the real-life antagonistic relationship Norwegian farmers and conservationists have regarding the country’s natural predators. Specifically, said predators’ penchant for eating valuable livestock, and farmers wanting to exterminate the predators to protect their livelihood. I’m obviously not an expert on the subject, but I think the film does a good job of addressing (and satirizing) both sides’ concerns. While it’s meant to tackle a Norwegian issue, I also think it’s a theme just about anybody can relate to on some level, especially if you live in a rural area. Trolls, like real-world predators, don’t cause trouble because they get off on being assholes, they’re doing what they have to do to survive.
At an hour or so from sunrise, we see tons of birds mysteriously hauling ass in one direction. Then we hear distant growling and snarling. We know what that means!
Everybody rushes out and gets geared up, but before they can move, Hans gets a call from the vet. Turns out the Ringlefinch had rabies!
That’s why they’ve been acting like such shitheads! It’s also why the tetanus shot didn’t stop Thomas from feeling like garbage! He’s fucking rabid! With the Jotnar stomping around like a lunatic, Hans theorizes that it’s rabid too, and most likely the one spreading it to all the other trolls. Hans tells Thomas to stay behind so he can get the rest he needs, and all three kiddos do exactly that. Until they get a glimpse of the Jotnar.
They rush out to find Hans in the distance blasting praise music from his truck before he unveils his secret weapon:
Just like the darker troll encounters earlier, the hazy, snowy early morning light does a great job of hiding the flaws that normally come with smaller-budget CG. The massive super-troll never looks like a washed-out cartoon blob, and it keeps this finale grand as hell.
This is all awesome and exciting… and then the light sputters out! Hans wheels back around to our three astonished protagonists. He needs to be at a safe distance to make some quick repairs to his jerry-rigged “totally safe” power supply for the spotlight.
He also confirms the Jotnar “definitely” has rabies. Because why settle for a gigantic rampaging monster when it can be a rabid gigantic rampaging monster? Everybody piles into the truck: they gotta wear down the Jotnar by leading it on a wild goose chase.
They also pick up a random, brick-shitting seismologist! Then they have to drive between the Jotnar’s feet and swinging tail!
Hans got in some more light blasts, and things are going pretty well! Until the troll bitch-slaps the truck into oblivion. After the camera sputters out and restarts, we see that everybody survived, and they groggily exit the wrecked truck to find the Jotnar is just thrashing around and screaming in agony. Hans is going to go in for the killshot to put the sick creature out of its misery. We get one last awesome exchange with Hans.
Homie just walks up to the 200 ft tall rabid troll, whips out a light bazooka, wastes the Jotnar with it, and peaces the fuck out forever.
WOW! Awesome! The End, right? Nah, not for our remaining hapless heroes. Their long walk back to civilization is cut short by Finn. And several trucks full of pissed off secret service agents. They all try to split up and outrun the agents, with Thomas making a break for it with the tapes. He seems to be in the clear, but the last thing the camera shows is him stumbling into the highway with a semi truck bearing down on him.
The ending is Blair Witch by way of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and it works. It’s funny, it’s scary, and it feels pretty real. Remember, the US Government is allowed to straight-up fucking murder you if you get too close to Area 51:
We get a few more eerie, Unsolved Mysteries-style title cards. A body was never found in the abandoned mine, the other college students are missing without a trace, and the government denies everything. Pretty bleak stuff, but the last title card is a lead-in to the movie’s awesome last gag:
That’s Finn going bug-eyed at Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg off-handedly confirming the existence of trolls at a televised press conference. It’s a skillfully made fake using real footage of Stoltenberg, and it’s a great way to cap off the movie.
So that’s Trollhunter! It’s great! It’s smart, funny, thrilling, and even a little spooky, with some truly unique and kick-ass monsters. The movie was a hit in its homeland and internationally, with Chris Columbus’ production company 1492 (God Columbus is a dork) snapping up the remake rights the day it premiered in the US.
It’s not that a Hollywood remake is guaranteed to fail, but I think it’d be really tricky for non-Scandinavians to nail the tone and sensibilities of the original and do it justice. Norwegian traditions and culture are absolutely baked into the DNA of the entire movie, and I doubt Chris Columbus would recruit a bunch of Nords to make an authentic troll movie on a huge Hollywood budget. Now if this was 80s “I wrote Gremlins and The Goonies” Chris Columbus I’d be a lot more interested.
But it’s been five years since Christopher Columbo bought the rights to it with no additional announcements, so I don’t think we’ll be seeing a remake any time soon. That’s a mixed blessing at best though: even a bad remake would make more people aware of the terrific original, and a good remake would mean we have another bitchin’ Trollhunter movie! The original didn’t exactly set itself up for sequels, so for now, Trollhunter remains a fantastic standalone film experience unlike any other. I bet Hans would have wanted it that way.