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Scares on a Budget

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Trollhunter, the latest, but by no means last, entry in the “found-footage” sub-genre popularized more than a decade ago by The Blair Witch Project and its many imitators fails to measure up to its more successful predecessors due to shallow character development, lethargic pacing, and a meandering, unfocused third act. However, it succeeds, if only sporadically, in providing de rigueur scares and shocks that define the horror-related sub-genre, as well as several memorable set pieces made all the more impressive by a modest budget, $3 million by most accounts.

Following the unwritten tenets of the sub-genre, Trollhunter opens with a message informing moviegoers that what we’re about to see, culled from 283-minutes of raw footage saved on two hard drives, is “real,” a narrative game most moviegoers are willing to play as long as the promised scares are delivered abundantly and frequently.

Trollhunter then jumps into the “found footage,” as Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), a college reporter; Johanna (Johanna Mørck), the sound woman; and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen), a cameraman with an unsteady hand, follow a group of state-sanctioned bear hunters as they try to uncover the identity of a poacher (or poachers) killing bears.

A gruff, bearded, middle-aged man in hunter’s gear, Hans (Otto Jespersen), constantly hovers nearby, never interacting with the other hunters. Their curiosity piqued, the students follow Hans back to his tricked-out Land Rover. He rebuffs every attempt at contact or communication, but their persistence eventually pays off when Hans is forced to save them from a troll attack.

Almost without purpose, Hans reveals that he’s a government-sanctioned troll hunter. Seeing an unparalled opportunity, the students decide to film the hunter on his nightly hunts, hoping to catch trolls in front of the camera. Hans, disturbed by the trolls’ newfound willingness to leave their normal hunting grounds, causing difficult-to-cover-up havoc in the countryside, wants to investigate (and stop) the trolls’ behavioral change.

Norwegian writer-director André Øvredal stops to explain the trolls’ fairy-tale-related habits, their weaknesses, their predatory, instinctual behavior, and their physiological differences. We even get an explanation for their photophobia. Rather than focus exclusively on the four central characters, however, Øvredal introduces several characters in the last half-hour that negatively affect tension- and suspense-generated narrative momentum. Øvredal further undermines narrative momentum by lingering on long-winded, exposition-heavy dialogue scenes, scenes mirrored by overlong, over-indulgent opening scenes that feel too much like a travelogue and not a horror-themed film.

Whatever the reason for its padded running time, judicious editing could have elevated Trollhunter into a better-than-average horror entry. Despite those shortcomings, however, Trollhunter offers a modest amount of carnage-free scares, all, unsurprisingly enough, related to the trolls of the title.

While the computer-generated trolls veer from the passable to the impressive, presumably due to the limited budget, Øvredal deserves credit for crafting several effective set pieces, starting with the trolls’ offs-creen roars and building toward their multiple appearances (each one different from the last), and their frenzied pursuit of the troll hunter and college students. That might not sound like much, but for horror fans eager for semi-original, semi-engaging fare, Trollhunter might be enough.