Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Troll Hunter

(Troll Hunter/2011)
          The fact is: Norway has one of the highest percentages of atheists in the world. Around 70% of the country’s population are estimated to be nonbelievers. This is relevant not simply as a curiosity, or as a sign of how far godless certain western nations have become, but also because of the absurd, prank-hilarity goofball Norweigen movie Troll Hunter. The film has not received much in the way of distribution so far, and that’s a pity. But it also may be because—well, no more should be said. According the film, we aren’t supposed to know about any of this.
            Troll Hunter starts with a shaky camera in an awkward position in a car, showing somebody’s arm. This is a documentary being shot by three students from Volda College (a real college) as they navigate their way through upper Norway, tracking a mysterious, illegal bear hunter. The hunter, Hans (Otto Jespersen) drives around in a banged up camper, staying in anonymous campgrounds each night. After several encounters where he brushes off his trackers, they finally follow him deep in to the woods and realize that the man believes he is hunting trolls. He agrees to let them film him, and on their next nighttime excursion, they realize that he really is hunting trolls, whose existence been covered up by the Norwiegen government for years. Trolls, while they may be dumb giants, can smell the blood of a Christian and will not hesitate to kill one. All three students claim to be non-believers. Hans has the aura of someone so thoroughly beyond belief that a church would distintegrate within ten feet of him. But still, the Trolls must be kept “in their territory.” Because recently they have been breaking out in to more civilized areas. 
            For the following hour and a half, Troll Hunter is a monster movie. Except not quite. It is also a very silly deadpan comedy, a grand allusion to Norse mythology, and a satire of government bureaucracy and the ways cultures dismiss their history, stories and their sense of fun. It is this last bit that is most decisive to Troll Hunter, because the film chooses to be fun and un-bureaucratic. Stylistically, the film may take its cues from other recent genre-mockumentaries such as The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. It suffers from the same inherent flaw as these other films; that is, a non-professionalism that too easily veers from cleverness to laziness. However, where those films took themselves and the most evident tropes of horror and action movies deadly seriously, with no sense of sarcasm Troll Hunter is a sort of Gulliver’s Travels of digital age B-movies. It aims for laughs only after a whole chunk of scenes come in to perspective, not with moment-to-moment jokes. And if we don’t have to believe its pretentions—towards Scandinavian history, culture, and government—have any significance on the story, then we can still see director Andre Ovredal’s style, as jagged-edged as it is, as a sometimes sweeping form of scene craft. The first true troll encounter, where the filmmakers and Hans are being chased by a gigantic, three-headed “Tosserlad,” is seen mostly from the cameraman’s own point of view, as he alternates (first intentionally, then by chance) between night vision and regular camcorder vision. The cameraman is the most frantic of the students, though at first we don’t know why. To make matters worse, he is the one who is lost. Ovredal is smart enough to realize that with the formula he has chosen, the camera can in fact represent several subjective viewpoints, and the real-time shooting technique can provide its own ironies. He is the first filmmaker working in the mock-verite style to turn the camera operator—the guy who has our vision in his hands—in to an unreliable narrator.
            Troll Hunter is sequenced between two titles: the first claiming that, after the footage we are about to watch turned up at a television studio anonymously, a team of investigators spent a year trying to determine if it was fake or authentic, and determined it was authentic. It is a given that, of course, the footage we are watching is not at all authentic. As realistically stern as actor Jespersen remains throughout each escapade, he is in fact a famous stand-up comedian in Norway; perhaps this is his way of trying out a prolonged practical joke. But how authentic Troll Hunter is as cinema is still unknown. It may be thrilling, weird, informative and never boring, but it is a firm product of the age of kids dicking around and thinking it looks cool. (The students in this film never stop grinning to themselves). Whether Troll Hunter wants to be merely hip or a more elaborate stunt is not clear, nor is it in any other recent genre-mockumentary. This means that it’s high time we see one of these films with only professional actors, or with no appeal to teenage enthusiasms whatsoever. Let’s say, a courtroom drama mockumentary. Will that be too boring? Filmmakers need to take that risk. You can’t create cinema if you don’t first risk tedium.