Review: ‘Trollhunter’ offers surprisingly sincere look at giant monsters

At this point, the fake documentary/found footage subgenere has become almost omnipresent.  TV shows have taken on the form with shows like “The Office” and “Modern Family,” and since ’99, when “The Blair Witch Project” became a box-office sensation, almost every genre’s had their found footage movie, and filmmakers continue to wring fresh life out of the basic form.

The latest example of someone getting it right opens this Friday in limited release, and it’s worth the effort for you to track it down.  Andre Ovredal wrote and directed the film, and it is a smart and funny use of mythology that works as both wicked comedy and sad commentary.  At the start of the film, a group of students are working on a documentary about what they believe are poachers, killing bears all over the country.  They find the guy they think is responsible and start to follow him, gradually realizing that he’s something far stranger than just a poacher.

It’s not a spoiler, since it’s the title of the movie, to reveal that the stranger turns out to be a Trollhunter, working for the government to not only keep the existence of trolls a secret, but to also keep the trolls on government land, safe and sound.  He’s been doing it for so long that he’s burnt out, and he decides to let the students film what he does, dragging the secret out into the light finally.

The film is well-performed, which puts it ahead of many fake documentaries right away, but beyond that, Ovredal has created some truly memorable monsters here, and they are so well-integrated that you stop thinking of them as effects after a while.  They are just giant trolls, captured by a film crew, each of them a different type, each with a very different personality.  I love the variety of creatures on display, and he goes out of his way as a director to make them feel like real things, part of the natural order and not just giant magic monsters.  There are several sequences here that remind me of that great T-rex attack in the first “Jurassic Park,” sequences that effectively play off the notion of scale and that tap something very primal.  Because these aren’t just monsters, though, but instead are portrayed as something somewhere between animal and man, big sad things that are remnants of an age that has passed.

The film, shot on natural locations in Norway, benefits enormously from the breathtaking beauty of the country, and it looks like a much bigger-budget film than it is.  The creature animation is also impressive, and the film is fairly fearless about showing you the trolls without flinching.  Low budget films often hide things to make up for the lack of money they have, but here, Ovredal is unafraid to just point the camera right at them.  It’s another reason the trolls seem real instead of like a special effect, and by the end of the film, I found myself moved by these things.  It’s not the reaction I expected, but it made “Trollhunter” more than just another fake documentary, more than just an easy joke.

“Trollhunter” opens in limited release this Friday.