Troll Hunter turns myth into modern hardboiled tragedy

In Norwegian monster movie Troll Hunter, available as video on demand before hitting theaters in the US, fairy tales become humorously, touchingly realistic. You won't be able to resist its satiric blend of government conspiracy and old Norse mythology.

The movie begins in classic Blair Witch style, with a team of young documentary filmmakers stumbling upon a secret troll hunter and waving their cameras around in ironic disbelief as they track him down to his claw-marked trailer. The hunter, Hans, is a grizzled former soldier (played with perfect deadpan badassery by Otto Jespersen) who travels the country in a motor home and armored anti-troll truck. After trying to get the annoying filmmakers off his back, he has a change of heart and decides to tell them everything. He's been employed by the government's secret Troll Security Service (TSS) to keep the ancient giants contained in their remote territories for years, and he's become disillusioned - "Maybe it's time for new troll management," he grumbles.

Troll Hunter turns myth into modern hardboiled tragedy

To prove that he's not just a nutjob, Hans brings the crew along with him on a series of troll containment missions. There have been many more troll attacks recently, and he's working with a local veterinarian to figure out what's wrong. Why are so many trolls venturing out of their territories? Could it be a troll war? A disease? Climate change? Can Hans please get a blood sample from one of the trolls to find out? (You should see the syringe he has to use.)

Troll Hunter turns myth into modern hardboiled tragedy

We find out in a series of interviews with Hans that trolls are sort of like bears - magnificent creatures who are nevertheless fairly dumb and want to eat everything. Mostly, they eat rocks. Sometimes they have wars where trolls from different groups throw stones at each other, but they don't seem to have tribes or cultures - or language, for that matter.

What's certain is that they're dangerous if they get into human communities. They'll destroy everything in their paths, and that's why Hans has to contain them: His job is to kill any troll who wanders out if its territory. Even as we laugh at the weird scenes of Hans blowing up trolls with three heads, there's also something poignant and sad going on in this movie. This is the secret demolition of myth by the government, and by civilization.

One of the joys of Troll Hunter is that, like all good fairy tales, it hints at a larger meaning - but the story is fanciful enough that we aren't forced into a rigid allegory. Are the trolls, as I suggested earlier, a myth that's destroyed by modernity? Forest creatures destroyed by industry? Or just the crazy wildness we kill in ourselves when we grow up and stop using our cameras to chase after rogue truths?

Even as you're musing over those questions, you'll still find yourself amused by all the goofy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer-esque touches here. The trolls can smell Christian blood, so only atheists (and, we discover later, Muslims) can chase after them. We learn some uncomfortable things about troll anatomy and endure some seriously disturbing troll farts with our heroes. There are also some odd Norwegian in-group jokes about electrical lines that lead nowhere in the vast northern reaches of the country, and a healthy amount of racing through the forest screaming, "Run away! TROLL!"

Also, the troll effects are great - they're the perfect mix of cartoony and realistic, with bulbous noses, broken-tooth mouths, and shaggy fur that manages to look as stinky as it is.

Funny and sad, mythic and thoroughly modern, Troll Hunter is a must-see for anybody who likes smart, well-written creature features.