In 1999 the found-footage genre burst onto the movie scene with the release of The Blair Witch Project. For the last 15 years the genre has been a bastion for cheap horror films which use pseudo-realism as a substitute for well-crafted suspense. Recently the Paranormal Activity series has carried the flag for the genre with five films including prequels, sequels, and spinoffs. In many ways that series embodies the found-footage genre it represents. It started out well (Paranormal Activity (2007) earned an 83% on RottenTomatoes.com which is very respectable, especially for a horror film) but has gradually declined and succumbed to boring repetition (the most recent film in the series, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014), scored a 38%). The relative low-cost, fast-production and high box-office takes of found-footage films has assured a steady stream of mostly mediocre efforts. Back in 2010 when Paranormal Activity 2 debuted, I was the general manager of a movie theater and couldn’t resist screening the popular new horror film and was rewarded with full houses and loud screams throughout the movie. But while multiple low-quality films have flooded the genre and rolled in high revenues for big studios (Paramount Pictures owns the rights to the Paranormal Activity series), a few films have reminded us why we originally fell for the genre. Although most people are familiar with Chronicle (2012) as the film that introduced us to Dane DeHaan, it also offers a proficient exercise in found-footage. Another less well-known addition to the genre is the Norwegian film Trollhunter.
In the film a group of university students set out to interview a local bear poacher but soon find that the bearded recluse is not responsible for illegal bear killings but for single-handedly defending the country from its secret Troll population. As the film starts it claims to present footage the students captured while following the Trollhunter. At first blush, the film’s premise seems ridiculous and the fact that it’s in the found-footage wheelhouse is disconcerting. But André Øvredal’s film is a perfect example of how to use the genre well by delivering enough shaky-cam and dropped-camera moments to jar but not to nauseate and by providing a story that actually benefits from the genre’s structure. The student’s goal of interviewing the Trollhunter and following him on his quests is better suited and more believable with a found-footage presentation than a standard format. It also creates an interesting dynamic between the characters with one student eagerly leading the investigation and a second who becomes increasingly timid as the danger increases. Admittedly, I can not fairly judge the film’s acting as all the lines are in Norwegian, but the actors deliver an appropriate tone by balancing humor and suspense.
Øvredal does an excellent job fleshing out the mystery behind the trolls, portraying them as both genuinely compelling monsters and misunderstood creatures. Dark fantasy films like this are best served by establishing an expanded lore that makes their stories more believable and absorbing. Trollhunter spends nearly as much time describing how to lure trolls with Christian blood, the differences amongst various troll breeds and the secret activities of the Troll Security Service as it does running and hiding from the trolls. Overall the film is a welcome surprise and far outpaces any initial expectations you might have knowing the premise and genre alone.
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