Trollhunter is a curiosity. Even in the context of the post-Blair Witch Project found footage/documentary horror genre, Trollhunter is something very different indeed. A group of film students decide to investigate a strange series of bear deaths. What they discover is an elaborate conspiracy instigated by the Norwegian government to hide the existence of trolls from the world. Writer/director Andre Ovredal hits on a good concept here. One of my favorite documentaries is a nature documentary called The Legend of Bigfoot. A world class documentary team (the Marx family actually filmed a number of Pacific Northwest creatures for the first time in history) goes on a journey to find the location of bigfoot. They discover evidence from Native American tribes--sculptures, paintings, totems--that begin to change the way they go after the colossal beasts.
In many ways, Trollhunter takes the same approach. The documentary crew goes after the man killing the bears. The evidence leads them to a deeper discovery: the existence of trolls. As they go further on their investigation, no only do they see the trolls, they see how things like down power lines, rock slides, and tornadoes could be the work of trolls. It reaches the point that you feel stupid for not noticing these things before.
That is the greatest aspect of Trollhunter. You know it's not a real documentary. Trolls don't actually exist. Yet, at its best, you start to believe the expertise of the government's top troll hunter. You'll question rock patterns, tracks in the woods, and any explanation any expert gives you that isn't "trolls did it."
For all the authenticity, Ovredal tips his hand too often to special effects. Anytime the trolls are onscreen, the illusion is ruined. Could you imagine Cloverfield if you saw the whole beast every time he attacked? What about seeing the inner workings of the mind in Chronicle every time they sent a potato chip in the air? In the fake documentary/found footage vein, less is more. Create believability but don't test the audience with so much special effects.
The design and mythology of the trolls is strong. The execution is lacking. You can't just say "trolls eat Christians, charcoal, and tires" and then not explain the attraction. Well, you can if you don't take the time to explain migratory patterns and genealogy. There are just these moments when you realize how ridiculous the whole conceit is. A towering ancient monster with extra heads used to scare off other trolls? Terrifying. Seeing them in full and lingering detail every time they show up? A bit boring.
Trollhunter has a bit of an identity crisis. If it wanted to be a low budget fake documentary, it should have gone all the way. Focus on the facts and tease the audience with their presence. If trolls actually showed up like this in real life, the government wouldn't be able to keep it a secret for a day, let alone decades or centuries.
If it wanted to be a monster movie, it needed to focus more on the conflict. The motivation of the troll is written out with one diagnosis in the final scene that doesn't actually add up. Why, even with that, do they attack humans? Why do they leave their territory? Why do they fight with each other? None of their motivation is explained. There just isn't enough relevant information to shift tactics in the last fifteen minutes.
Trollhunter has its charms, but it just doesn't quite gel as a cohesive horror film.
Thoughts? Have you seen Trollhunter yet? You can stream it on Netflix right now. What do you think? Sound off below.