IT'S EASY to make comparisons of the Norwegian fake-documentary horror-thriller Trollhunter to other fake-documentary horror-thrillers like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. I think a more apt comparison, though, would be the recent Finnish film Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, in which Santa Claus was revealed to be a menacing ogre. That movie balanced the comedic and creepy elements of familiar children's stories; Trollhunter similarly plunders a well-worn mythology—trolls are even more common in Scandinavian folktales than they are in our own—and the result is an action-packed monster movie that's entirely silly and wholly suspenseful. It's a testament to the film's skill that the well-worn gimmick of (ostensibly) found footage results in a movie that's much more fun than Blair Witch and Cloverfield—or even Rare Exports, for that matter.
The film begins with three enterprising film students trailing the stocky, bearded Hans (Otto Jespersen), whom they suspect is a bear poacher. The gruff man has no patience for the budding filmmakers, and tells them in no uncertain terms to fuck off. But they persist in following him into the wilderness of coastal Norway—a misty, craggy, gorgeous landscape that looks strikingly similar to the Pacific Northwest, particularly through the grainy but enveloping handheld camerawork. They soon discover what he's really up to: tracking (and in some cases, exterminating) gigantic creatures that may or may not be trolls. (Oh, okay, they are trolls.)
Here's what Trollhunter gets absolutely right: These monsters are ridiculous. After much skillful suspense building, the film finally gives us a clear look at them, and they do in fact resemble overgrown troll dolls—goofy and kind of stupidly cute, even as we can plainly see how disgusting and violent they are. Writer/director André Øvredal expertly walks the line between ominous and humorous, and Jespersen is terrific as one of those anti-heroes who's intimidating, hilarious, badass, and loveable all at once. (A controversial comedian in Norway, Jespersen never once cracks for the camera; you get the feeling his character could be part troll himself.)
There's an element of environmental satire at work as well, which might play better to Norwegian audiences, but the film is unfailingly intelligent in its handling of otherwise harebrained subject matter. In fact, the more time that passes, the more I realize how razor sharp the film's humor is. And yes, in spite of all the film's faux-documentary tricks, it's certain that trolls aren't real—but Trollhunter makes you wish, just a little, that they were.