A surpassingly silly monster movie with a side helping of satire, Trollhunter beckons mainly for its stunning Norwegian scenery and slyly effective government-bashing. Set among the country's lush woods and snow-capped mountains, this found-footage mockumentary recounts the fate of three pinheaded college students who set out to film a story about bear poaching. What they find is a lot bigger and uglier than the average bear — and a premise that would have made a cute short film. Unfortunately, like the titular trolls, writer-director Andre Ovredal just doesn't know when to stop.
Pounding along with the trembly-cam urgency of The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, the film follows the moronic Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), his monosyllabic cameraman (Tomas Alf Larsen) and a dithery sound girl (Johanna Morck) as they investigate a series of mysterious bear deaths. Suspecting poachers, they stalk the secretive Hans (Norwegian comedian Otto Jespersen), a Grizzly Adams type who drives a strangely mauled trailer equipped — for reasons not immediately apparent — with indoor tanning and roof-mounted sunlamps.
Shadowing Hans on a nighttime foray deep into the woods, the trio is spooked by ferocious growling and teasing glimpses of a scaly tail and scraggly claws. The eventual materialization of a humongous hillock of hairy wrath provokes much screaming and crashing about, a reaction that will be replayed multiple times with increasing hysteria and diminishing returns. With characters as shallow as tide pools and critters (realized from illustrations by the late Theodor Kittelsen) whose lumberings are all but obscured by murk and mayhem, the film has nowhere to go but in circles.
Genially simpleminded and more sweet than scary, Trollhunter never settles on a tone. Fairytale fantasy, supernatural comedy, serious horror? All are sampled, to the detriment of the whole.
In the movie's sole successful conceit, Hans is unmasked as the disgruntled employee of a secret government agency dedicated to concealing the existence of marauding trolls from a suspicious public.
"I get no night bonus, no overtime," he gripes to the astonished film crew, wearily filling out the paperwork required after each slaying.
Positioned midway between Robert Shaw's grizzled mariner in Jaws and Jack Nicholson's bitter soldier in A Few Good Men, Hans is the movie's MVP. Slathering his young acolytes in a disgusting slurry labeled "troll stench," gruffly relaying war stories and enumerating his prey's idiosyncracies — which include chewing charcoal and chugging the blood of Christians — he's a jaded bureaucrat forced to massacre the only creatures he really understands.
Some of the film's politics, however, might get lost in translation — like Hans' assertion that a circle of gigantic electrical towers is actually part of a troll security system. (Last year, Norway's Oil and Energy Minister was locked in a heated battle with environmentalists over the construction of a new power line on a scenic mountain plateau.) "Farmers and activists don't like it," says Hans, echoing real life, and we get the sense that the director might sympathize. You don't have to be Norwegian to believe that a forest filled with trolls might be preferable to a room full of politicians.