The Mini-Me of the faux-documentary subgenre, the "found footage" faux-documentary sub-subgenre would logically seem to have worn out its welcome in the 12 years since The Blair Witch Project's phenomenal success. After all, its visual structure is fairly rigid (handheld cameras, grainy footage, the occasional cracked lens), its story line is straightforward (wow, monsters/aliens/ghosts do exist after all!), and the fates of its leading characters are always apparent (there's a reason the footage is "found" a good while after the fact). Yet here we are in 2011, with more entries on the way (up next: Apollo 18). For now, there's Trollhunter, and damn if this Norwegian import doesn't demonstrate that there's still some juice left in the tank of this sort of yarn.
Certainly, witnessing this genre being related from a foreign source adds an unfamiliar, mythological air about it, much as last year's delightfully deranged Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale — in which Santa Claus and his grotesque elf army slaughter reindeer and kidnap children — was informed by its Finnish genesis. In Trollhunter, the opening title in the new Back Alley Film Series (see accompanying article, "BAFS: Right up our alley"), writer-director André Ovredal and cinematographer Hallvard Braein capture both the stark beauty and the seasonal frigidity of the Norwegian wild, absolutely integral atmospherics for this tale to work.
The amateur filmmakers in this instance are three students — Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Morck) and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen) — who are hell-bent on interviewing Hans (Otto Jespersen), a reclusive hunter who's suspected of illegally killing bears. But it turns out that Hans is a trollhunter, although the kids are going to have to see some proof of the existence of trolls before they swallow that tidbit. Hans invites them to tag along as he goes about his business, and it's not long afterward — specifically, after being chased by a woodland creature as tall as the trees themselves — that these three realize they've stumbled across the (hidden) story of the century.
Although armed with a sense of humor — stick through the end and you'll see a credit that reads, "No trolls were harmed during the making of this film" — the picture doesn't skimp on the occasional thrills, particularly during a segment in which Hans and the students are pinned down in a cavern by a group of slumbering trolls. Yet what's most entertaining about the film is the manner in which it draws from established fairy tales and folklore to paint its monsters (the constant references to Christian blood, the splendid riff on Three Billy Goats Gruff), and what's most interesting about it is how it depicts Hans as a working-class stiff who's tired of a thankless job that offers lousy hours and no overtime pay. Between Hans' recognizable career malaise, the key plot point involving power lines (a topic so touchy in Norway that even the New York Times has covered it) and a terrific gag centered around an actual interview with the country's prime minister, Trollhunter demonstrates that even faux-documentaries can mine real-life sources for suitable content.