Movie Review: “Trollhunter”

Fun, though not nearly as much fun as it might have been, “TrollHunter” is a bit like a Norwegian version of “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale,” the Finnish horror film about “the REAL (and really evil) Santa Claus.”

This time, the mythical creatures are trolls, gigantic denizens of Norway’s mountains and forests, critters not totally unlike those in the fairytales (they turn to stone when light hits them) but totally unlike those cute wild-haired dolls kids have collected for eons.

Norway’s government knows about the trolls and “manages” the troll population — like bears. And they cover up the trolls’ existence , explaining away the slaughter of lifestock and the devouring of the occasional German tourist with more natural causes — like bears.

A college film crew, perhaps inspired by “The Blair Witch Project,” stalks the mysterious Hans (Otto Jespersen). Other hunters think he’s a bear poacher, but they all keep their distance. Hans travels in a claw-marked Land Rover and sleeps in a singularly stinky camper-trailer. And he isn’t having anything to do with these three college kids — “Leave me alone,” he growls in Norwegian.

“Do you think Michael Moore gave up after the first try?” the would-be filmmaker Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud) exhorts his crew.

They chase him from fjord to forest and into the mountains. But Hans doesn’t resist them for long. Perhaps he’s lonely. Perhaps, being the only government trollhunter still on the job, he wants a little recognition for this dangerous work he does. He has one proviso. There can’t be a Christian among them.

Trolls “can smell the blood of a Christian man.”

“TrollHunter” rumbles through the Norwegian darkness as Hans tries to figure out why this Ringlefinch or that Tosserlad or Jotnar has gotten out of his or her hunting grounds. He baits traps with concrete and charcoal (Yet the trolls are eating cows, sheep and people.). He hunts them with shotguns, land mines and spotlights. And the kids hunt along with him, scared out of their wits most nights as they hear the rumble of foot-stomps, see first the tree-tops shake, and then spy the beasts themselves — often spotted through night vision viewfinders.

“TrollHunter,” in Norwegian with English subtitles, could have been a giddy, gory romp, but co-writer/director André Øvredal stuck to his “Blair Witch” found-footage storyline. He went for scary, deep dark chills. But he plainly didn’t learn the low-budget lessons of “Blair Witch.” Don’t waste money showing the witch. It’s much scarier off camera.

And that’s especially true of the trolls we see here. They are laugh-out-loud funny  — bizarre stop-motion animated beasts with multiple heads and jerky-motion bodies.

But the camp value of the funny trolls, of the faux scientific “explanations” given by Hans and a veterinarian he works with for the types of trolls, troll metabolisms, etc., is spoiled somewhat by Jespersen’s deadpan performance. Hans was meant to be this larger than life, gonzo sort of figure, a Norwegian Man in Black. And Jespersen makes him just a working class stiff — emphasis on stiff.  If Hollywood remakes this, give the job to Tommie Lee Jones.

“TrollHunter,” opening for midnight shows Friday at the Enzian, is more fun to see with a crowd of fellow horror camp enthusiasts. It has laughs and lots of lovely Norwegian scenery. But it’s not consistently funny or remotely scary. Once, that is, we’ve actually gotten a good look at the clay animated thing underneath hiding beneath that Norwegian bridge.

MPAA Rating: PG-123 for some sequences of creature terror.

Cast: Otto Jespersen, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Mørck, Tomas Alf Larsen

Credits: Co-written and directed by André Øvredal, produced by Sveinung Golimo and John M. Jacobsen. A Magnolia Pictures release.

Running time: 1:43

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