The sheer oddness of trolls and their mythology outweighs the threat of their power and mysticism in André Øvredal’s Trollhunter, an amiable but weightless mockumentary that traverses the rural landscapes of Norway in search of the rock-scarfing, Christian-blood-chugging creatures. As the film explains, trolls have been the real reasons behind such so-called natural concerns as global warming and mass electrical outages in Norway for years, hiding in its dense forests and underneath its snowy mountain ranges. Working from his own script, Øvredal dabbles in mythology as much as he upends it, but what may have made for a triumphant short becomes cloying, predictable, and tedious when stretched to nearly 100 minutes.
Trollhunter is an attempt at a hybrid movie, haphazardly mixing adventure, horror, and comedy in the style of a documentary being made by a trio of college students from Volda. Lead by fearless leader Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), who fashions himself a Michael Moore-type button-pusher, the students originally begin following a man named Hans (Otto Jespersen) as part of their exposé on Nordic bear hunting, suspecting the man of being an unlicensed bear hunter stealing the prey of honest licensed hunters. They follow Hans incessantly, but can’t help but be skeptical when he runs out of the woods yelling “Troll!”—despite the fact that Thomas was attacked by an unidentified creature at the same time. It isn’t until Hans agrees to allow them to continue filming that they finally come upon a perfectly ugly forest troll that stands as tall as any tree in sight.
Hans’s decision to allow Thomas and his crew, including sound girl Johanna (Johanna Mørck) and cameraman Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen), to film his job is made largely out of spite. Late in the film, he recounts slaughtering troll women and babies to ensure the building of a roadway. It’s a silly detail, but Trollhunter is at its most fascinating and enjoyable when it luxuriates in the sober details of Hans’s particular profession and his history. The film’s at its best when it works to convince us that not only is this a believable job (properly baiting trolls with Christian blood, explaining why they turn to stone or explode when hit with immense light, and understanding the biological imperatives, psychology, and history of myriad troll species), but that it sucks just as bad as any gig at a construction site or office manager position.
The point comes across, but the Trollhunter narrative begins to lag early on and Øvredal spends a great deal of time on the inconsequential conversing between Thomas and Hans, which may have been suitable if the character of Thomas didn’t make you want to root for the oversized monsters. In the realm of horror, this is nothing new, but Trollhunter isn’t a horror movie. In fact, the entire film labors under a tone-deaf atmosphere that originally looks like parody or even satire, but then quickly shifts into supernatural-thriller territory when Hans’s boss (Hans Morten Hansen), a government official, begins acting twitchy about Thomas and his crew’s recordings with Hans. That white men are far more dangerous and loathsome than sheep-eating giants comes across perfectly, but Øvredal doesn’t match the theme with any sort of inventiveness and the film eventually flounders.
Injecting some down time to intimate a vast internal life is one thing, but needlessly approximating patches of wasted time is another, and Trollhunter’s dully drawn characters suggest that the latter is closer to what Øvredal came up with. As an overall effort, it’s not without its minor delights, especially a cave scene in which Hans, Thomas, and the crew find themselves trapped in a nest of mountain trolls, but these moments are so often fleeting, leading only to more obnoxious and condescending questions from Thomas. Not without its dubious political statements (global warming is only as real as trolls), Trollhunter is ultimately too dumb to be satisfyingly dumb and its attempts at being smart are always too brief and pointless to ever be found interesting. For such a direct and plainly titled film, Trollhunter doesn’t have a clue as to what it wants to be.