At some point, in any good fake documentary, there must come a moment where the people shout “Run!” This is followed, in time-honoured tradition, by tightly edited footage of people running away, which no-one who was actually running would even have bothered to shoot, let alone shoot from different angles. We accept this ruse as part of the game. It’s a wonder anyone has the gall to play this stuff straight. Lucky for us, the makers of Troll Hunter understand the inherent ridiculousness of leaving the camera on when you’re fleeing for your life, and their movie is plays more like Spinal Tap than The Blair Witch Project. I don’t know if it was part of the joke to make a droll troll movie, but the tone seems to fit.
We start off with a bunch of callow film-school types who want to make a documentary about a mysterious hunter. This man drives a Land Rover covered in claw marks and looks a little bit like the shark-hunter from Jaws, Sam Quint. As it turns out, he’s a troll hunter, employed by the TSS (Troll Security Service) of Norway, tasked with exterminating any troll which leaves its natural habitat (mountains, woods). Trolls have a tendency to eat Christians when they get the munchies, and the troll hunter is all that stands between Norway’s faithful and a faith-based picnic. What follows is alleged “found footage” of the film crew’s exploits; hunting trolls big and small in a Norwegian landscape that looks exactly like Middle Earth.
No-one ever explains why trolls like eating Christians. The entire practice appears to be based on the giant’s ditty from Jack and the Beanstalk (Fee Fi Fo Fum / I Smell the Blood of a Christian Man / Be He Living, or Be He Dead / I’ll Grind His Bones to Make My Bread). But is a fairy tale “giant” the same thing as a troll? Did anyone even care about etymology when they were writing fairy tales? The makers of Troll Hunter certainly don’t waste time worrying about such details. This lack of preciousness about their subject goes hand-in-hand with the movie’s wry sense of humour. The Troll Security Service is depicted as a bunch of weary bureaucrats in rumpled clothes, arriving at the scene of each troll attack with a pair of bear feet, to help them make phony tracks. When the troll hunter wants to lure a colossal “Jotnar” troll towards him, the only way to do it, apparently, is by playing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”.
It would have been fun to see a priest in the movie confronting trolls, but the film-makers don’t use religion much beyond use of the word Christian. Like most fake documentaries, the script has the odd gem of dialogue (like the Polish contractor who explains – when asked why he’s participating in the cover-up – “Why problem make when you no problem have you don’t want to make?”), but Troll Hunter is fitful in its satire. This is a monster movie that happens to take the piss out of Norway, rather than a piss-take with monsters in it. The good jokes work, but it wouldn’t have hurt to have more of them, like the bit where the film crew ask whether trolls eat Muslims, and the troll hunter is momentarily at a loss for words.
Otto Jespersen, who plays the eponymous ogre basher, looks like he was carved out of a mountainous oak tree. He has the sort of face that cries “woodsman” the same way as if he was wearing a coonskin cap. His beard is rugged and outdoorsy. Very much in tune with the bone-dry nature of proceedings, he delivers his lectures on trolls with a gravitas that puts Robert Shaw (the man who played Quint in Jaws) in the shade. Whether he’s commanding the film crew to coat themselves in troll shit, or explaining how trolls can sometimes explode, there’s a solidness to his pronouncements that gives them weight, even when they’re absurd. This is the kind of man for whom stoicism was invented. He’s a bulwark against trolls.
Scandinavians come equipped for this sort of nonsense. There’s a raft of Scandinavian film-makers who like to plunge into weird realms where fantasy runs amok. Think of Denmark’s Lars von Trier, or Roy Andersson, the Swedish director who made Songs from the Second Floor. In the Icelandic comedy Cold Fever, a Japanese business man has a memorable encounter with a fairy. So we shouldn’t be surprised when a Norwegian director makes a movie about trolls. To the extent that the film is “about” anything, it does have some sly pokes at Norwegian government. But Troll Hunter is, at heart, a creature feature. Like Godzilla, you can read into it what you want, but the main attraction is to watch people run.