103 minutes

The greatest disservice that can be done to André Øvredal's deceptively entertaining debut feature is to neatly file it as a novelty genre item, next to all the other fake documentary horror thrillers spawned by The Blair Witch Project. It may be unavoidable, as Troll Hunter does work within those very narrow perimeters of the "unearthed footage" shot by a now-disappeared crew of college students; but what the Norwegian helmer does within those parameters plays up as much as it deflates standard genre tropes, on its way to a heroic attempt to snatch them back from the standard-issue formula that's been overused lately.

     Mr Øvredal does it by downplaying the outlandish quirkiness of a premise that sees the mythical Scandinavian trolls gain actual existence as a living animal: the bear attacks that have randomly plagued the Norwegian countryside are actually troll episodes, and the secretive poacher the crew latches on is in fact a state-sanctioned "troll hunter".

    As portrayed by comedian Otto Jespersen in a performance of surprising depth, Hans is ex-military, has spent far too much time on the trail of trolls and is tired of his lonesome life, particularly when up against his petty bureaucrat of a boss (the spot-on Hans Morten Hansen); it's a fully rounded character and a superb performance, and it tips the film from lo-fi thriller into an insightful drama of disappointment and disillusion - and that is par for the course for this constantly surprising production.

     Troll Hunter does seem to sag and lag for long stretches but that is actually part and parcel of its jack-in-the-box approach to narrative construction, presenting one predictable fork on the plot road ahead only to reveal it as a decoy that masks the actual direction the film takes. It becomes, by turns and sometimes all at the same time, a wry comedy of modern society, a moving portrait of a lonely man, a deadpan satire of bureaucracy and politics, and a thrilling monster movie, without ever alighting for long enough in any of these places to risk being tagged as just one thing.

    Not perfect by any means - the student crew is an underdeveloped series of stock genre characters, and are overshadowed at every turn by Messrs Jespersen and Hansen - it is nevertheless a dazzlingly inventive enterprise, one that is technically impressive (the CGI visual effects perfectly melding with the convincingly shaky handheld visuals) and unexpectedly moving. Troll Hunter fully deserves to be discovered as more than just the genre item most people will dismiss it as.

Starring Otto Jespersen; Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Mørck, Tomas Alf Larsen, Urmila Berg-Domaas; Hans Morten Hansen; Robert Stoltenberg; Knut Nærum.
     Directed by André Øvredal; produced by John M. Jacobsen, Sveinung Golimo; written by André Øvredal with the collaboration of Håvard S. Johansen; director of photography (colour, processing by Nordisk Film Short Cut), Hallvard Bræin; production designer, Martin Gant; costume designer, Stina Lunde; film editor, Per Erik Eriksen; visual effects producer, Marcus Brodersen; visual effects supervisor, Øystein Larsen.
     A Filmkameratene production, in association with Filmfondet Fuzz and Svensk Filmindustri Norge, with support from the Norwegian Film Institute and Sogn og Fjundane City Hall. (Norwegian distributor, Svensk Filmindustri Norge. World sales, Svensk Filmindustri.)
     Screened: MOTELx official opening screening, São Jorge 1 (Lisbon), September 7th 2011. 


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