A bunch of college students fancy themselves investigative journalists — maybe even Michael Moore! — and think they’ve stumbled onto a big big story of a wildlife poacher. So they follow him around the remote Norwegian mountains for a while… Turns out Hans (Otto Jespersen) hunts trolls. Yeah: trolls. They’re huge, nasty creatures — not monsters, just unpleasant and sometimes dangerous animals that come in several mean-tempered species — and it is Hans’s government-sanctioned job to take them out when they encroach too much on human settlements.
There’s tons of delicious suspense of the horror-flick variety to be had in writer-director André Øvredal’s mockumentary, and plenty of Spielbergian shock-awe — in places Trollhunter gleefully recalls Jaws and Jurassic Park — but what makes it one of the most satisfying examples of found-footage flicks yet is its observational, journalistic ethos. This is a totally fresh fantasy that nevertheless takes place fully in the larger modern world, wherein ex-military Hans is weary of his shitty job, not just for obvious reasons but because of the bureaucracy and the damn paperwork involved.
Subtle metaphors for how poorly we cope with giving former soldiers meaningful work mesh well with less subtle metaphors about how we cope — or don’t — with the natural world. The multicultural realities of today clash in hilariously dry ways when the troll lore of the past — “They can smell the blood of a Christian man,” which in medieval Norway would have meant “anyone” — meets 21st-century authenticity: atheists are safe around trolls, but what about Muslims? (Who knows? Let’s find out!)
The visceral power of mythology is present here, for certain, in how we want there to be strangeness and wonder in the world, but it comes not only in the dark woods but also in government conspiracies and in the alien cultures we mingle with on a daily basis.