Saturday 7 January 2012

On DVD: "The Troll Hunter"

The Norwegian novelty hit The Troll Hunter stood head-and-shoulders above 2011's other "found footage" offerings (Apollo 18, Atrocious), chiefly by virtue of establishing characters we can get a clear handle on when the camera starts getting shaken around. André Øvredal's film presents us with the digital recordings of a college TV news crew initially dispatched to investigate reports of illegal bear hunting in nearby woods. Their first interviews are with licensed huntsmen miffed about poachers, but then the students encounter Hans (Otto Jespersen), a burly, beardy chap living out of a beat-up camper van, who refuses to answer the crew's questions while reluctantly inviting them to tag along with him on his nocturnal ventures. Turns out some things are best seen with your own eyes (or digicam): Hans patrols the woods at night to rid them not of bears, but trolls who've broken out of the remote territory the Norwegian government has kept them in for research purposes. As is to be expected from legend, this will involve a lot of peering under bridges.

The film has a weird kind of beauty about it, appropriating drizzly or snowy countryside for its own mythological ends: power lines become electric fences to keep the trolls penned in. The trolls themselves are CG creations, but retain wild-and-woolly elements of the beasts in Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are; Hans stops them in their tracks by blasting them with bright lights, turning them into free-standing stone sculptures, if you're inclined to view them this way. Øvredal's clever script builds on pre-existing assumptions about the subject matter: there are different subspecies of troll, such as the Ringlefinch and the Tosserlad ("There's the Harding, out west," Hans adds, which will come as welcome news to fans of Girls Aloud) - and works in a deft sketch of national character, from the eager-beaver reporters, who somehow retain their enthusiasm when covered from top to tail in troll entrails, to the gruff title character, who keeps a landmine in his battered Jeep and enjoys a hearty fry-up at the end of each night's hunting.

District 9 is the likely precedent for it: there's a subplot about trollhunting bureaucracy and form-filling, and a bit more running around than is perhaps justified by the running time. Yet you can feel Øvredal relaxing into his conceit, and refusing to bungle it by hustling towards the sudden, trailer-friendly shocks many of his rivals tend to stoop for: he'd rather we simply got to hang out with, and have a laugh with or at, the main character, or indeed the Polish clean-up team who speak in garbled English and are contracted by the Government to import the bears with which to cover the Troll Hunter's tracks. The delight resides in such details: you will emerge from it knowing more than you ever thought possible about the importance of concentrated troll stench to serious trollhunting, and most likely tickled indeed.

The Troll Hunter is available on DVD, and via some pay-per-view platforms, from Monday.

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