Saturday, October 3, 2015
Found footage movies work by blurring the line between reality and fantasy. Yes, we know they're really just movies, that these people are just actors, but in the back of our minds, we have a smidgen of doubt, a little thought that says, "Eh, this could have happened." One technique to accomplish this is to never show the monster, as The Blair Witch Project and Willow Creek do. Since we never see an actor in makeup as a witch or an animatronic ape creature, the level of artifice is lessened, and it creates more uncertainty in the viewer.
Trollhunter adopts a different approach by showing lots of trolls. These aren't quick, barely-seen glimpses of shadowy figures in the woods, but wide open shots that show off the creatures' full size and shape. There are many different types of trolls, you see: mountain trolls, cave trolls, forest trolls, and another that lives under a bridge. A veterinarian helpfully explains trolls' bodies cannot process Vitamin D, so when they are exposed to light, they turn to stone or explode.
The trolls themselves are big, mean, and ugly, and while we see a lot of them, the filmmakers don't overexpose them (hee hee). We see them through night-vision filters, at long distances, and otherwise partially obscured by trees, fog, and shadows. There is a certain innocence to these creatures (they are essentially wild animals just doing their thing), and in the case of the final troll, we get a sense of majesty. Still, they are dangerous and wild. When the group is trapped in a cave by a pack of trolls, it is fairly tense.
The problem is all these details are adrift in a movie lacking a strong narrative to pull them together. Once the kids learn the true nature of Hans' work, the movie pretty much goes from set piece to set piece and never really builds dramatically. Individual scenes are strong: Hans donning makeshift armor to collect a blood sample from the aforementioned troll under the bridge is suitably tense and darkly funny as an updated fairy tale scenario, and the climax in which the group encounters an especially giant troll achieves a grand sense of awe and terror.
Another detail puzzles me. Hans asks the group if any of them believe in God or Jesus because trolls smell the blood of Christian men. They all say no, but of course, one of them isn't being entirely truthful, and that comes back to bite him (his replacement is Muslim woman, but Hans admits he doesn't know if that will mean anything). Two issues: one, since this is the camera operator and we never see him, his death doesn't have much impact, and two, wouldn't knowledge that trolls like Christian blood be some sort of implicit acknowledgement of the faith's accuracy? It's like vampires who are repelled by crosses but only if the wielder has faith. No scientific explanation is offered for why this is, and the film doesn't account for the contradiction that Hans apparently doesn't believe in God and yet knows trolls are drawn to Christian blood.