Found footage films, almost always taking place within horror, have certainly made themselves a cozy spot in the bevy of subgenres within cinema. Every time one comes out, its detractors call found footage played out and tired. Because these films have such an immediately recognizable and visually set format, it begs to be railed against every time a mediocre offering is released. Yet just because REC 2, The Last Exorcism, Paranormal Activity and now The Troll Hunter underwhelm, does not mean I will write off found footage. They offer a different way of presenting a story; one that places the audience front and center in any given situation, giving it as much potential as any other kind of storytelling. It is hasty to take down found footage just because The Troll Hunter is stuck in its own mild and forgettable limbo.
College student filmmakers Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Morck) and Kalle (Thomas Larsen) investigate the recent illegal bear hunting taking place in their area. They quickly come upon Hans, played by Norwegian comedian Otto Jesperson, an eccentric hunter who they believe is the culprit. It turns out Hans is a troll hunter sanctioned by the government to control the troll population in the surrounding area. Out of spite for his superiors, he invites the students along while he baits and kills trolls with his UV light, which either turns them to stone or makes them explode.
The Troll Hunter can be appreciated for its humor and take on Norwegian folklore. It boasts an amusing lead performance by Jesperson and is occasionally clever. Perhaps its subtlety would have been more at home within a traditionally executed narrative. Found footage is anything but subtle, thus making itself tonally at odds with its format.
The claim cannot be made that the film is not scary enough because this never seems to be its goal. Not much here is even meant to be scary; the trolls themselves function as creatures to be marveled at more than anything else. They do not function they way other horror movie monsters do; the threat they pose exists only because Hans and the students are actively hunting them. Suspense is rarely built and scares are hard to find, but again, that was never its purpose.
So what is its purpose then? The film is an amusing take on folklore, but it is simply not enough. Never moving past being an agreeable way to spend ninety minutes, the film has a hard time eliciting anything more than the occasional smirk. Still, the creatures are impressively executed and we get a much better look at them than one might expect. There is also some lovely Norwegian landscape on display, albeit with the cinematography required from a found footage film.
Any and all characterization gets thrown onto Hans. Jesperson is putting on a one-man show with his dedicated earnest kook character. He delivers the goods, but the found footage format comes occasionally close to burying the performance. Jesperson is good enough to narrowly avoid that pitfall. The film may be called The Troll Hunter, but that should not mean all of the character development we get from the students consists of basic emoting without differentiate between the three characters. Amazement, amusement, fright and concern are doled out in equal measure. The students are very well cast; I just wish they each had even one simple layer of distinction to make them feel like individuals.
The Troll Hunter never gets off the ground the way it should, always staying one level above dormant. Its decision to steer away from straight horror is not substituted with anything else by writer/director André Øvredal. It may be kind of funny, kind of interesting and kind of clever, but ‘kind of’ is not enough.