Friday, 6 April 2012

"The Troll Hunter" - a comedy horror film that's a homage to a beloved artist

If this had been an American film, I wouldn't have bothered watching it. But it's Norwegian, so I gave it a go: partly out of loyalty; partly because of the shameful knowledge that I have only  seen two Norwegian films in the last quarter century (Pathfinder and Insomnia - both brilliant); partly because the land of my forefathers has been so comprehensively overshadowed by its neighbours, Denmark and Sweden, in terms of its film and TV output; and partly because it has garnered some very decent reviews.

Honestly, it's very funny (intentionally). A group of students are trying to bring a bear killer to justice by filming his activities - only to discover that their suspect is in fact a troll hunter appointed by a government which denies the monsters' existence. The main actors are all comedians, apparently, and that's probably why it works so well. The scene where the students and the troll hunter are trapped in a cave with a family of enormous, farting trolls is particularly amusing. I also enjoyed the scene where the students are informed that they have to smear themselves with "troll stench" (especially the groin) to remain undetected (it's the squidgy crud produced by  squeezing a dead troll, apparently). And the theory that electricity pylons in an unpopulated part of the country serve no purpose except to act as a gigantic electrical fence to keep the largest strain of trolls - Mountain Kings - penned in is clever. The CGI effects aren't exactly James Cameron-level, but they're good enough.

Obviously the scenery is quite stunning throughout (I must get back to Norway soon).

Sea Troll, Theodor Kittelsen
The most delightful thing about the film, for me, is that it's basically a 90-minute homage to the Norwegian artist/illustrator Theodor Kittelsen (1857-1914). Born into grinding poverty as one of eight children whose father died young, his natural talent - and the generosity of a patron - led to attendance at a school of drawing in Oslo (then Christiania), and susequently to further study in Munich and Paris, resulting in a career as a painter, and  as an illustrator of books of Nordic folk tales. He wasn't the most technically-gifted of artists, and the quality of his output was variable - but he certainly possessed an original vision, and developed a unique style based on his profound response to the beautiful, frightening, haunting, massive landscapes of his homeland.

Kittelsen images are fairly ubiquitous in Norway - he's one of those national artists who shape the way people actually see their country. My brother has several Kittelsen troll prints on his walls. I have a collection of his troll-work in book form, and as I sit typing this post, I can look up to see this on the wall directly in front of me:

But, of course, Kittelsen didn't only do monsters, and he didn't only capture the wild, scary aspects of his country. As I ascend the stairs to my eyrie each morning here at Grønmark Towers, I pass this delightful painting:

If you're ever in Norway, do keep an eye peeled for Kittlesen's work - it isn't hard to find. And if you fancy an amusing feel-good movie, give The Troll Hunter a go - you will enjoy it, despite the title and the genre.


  1. If you Google "IMDb 70 Great Norwegian Films" that will give you some titles. I recommend "Hamsun" with Max von Sydow and "Hunger" with Per Oscarsson. For some reason all leading actors in Norwegian films seem to be Swedes [ viz "Insomnia" and Stellan Skarsgaard]. Another good recent film is "O'Horten" [directed by the unfortunately named Bent Hammer who seems to be establishing a good reputation - for directing, that is]. "Elling" and "Nine Lives" are well-known in Norway and that great classic "Shetlandsgjengen" [starring your grandmother, Jenny Mulholland, is in the process of being released on LoveFilm]. Avoid a film called "Dead Snow" which is all about Nazi Zombies.

  2. Thank you, Thor. I read "Hunger" by Knut Hamsun many years ago and have been trying desperately to cheer up ever since - but it would be nice to see von Sydow in something more suitable than the rubbish he usually makes in Hollywood. As for O'Horten, how could anyone resist a Norewgian film abouyt a retiring train driver with an Irishman's name for a title and whose director sounds like a porn star (alhough a bit "niche" by the sound of it). Elling and Nine Lives I will also hunt for, as the chances of them turning up on the SkyMovies RomCom channel seem remote. I hate to admit that, after The Troll Hunter I'm up for any Norwegian horror movie - can't wait to see what they do with Nazi Zomboes.

    "Shetlandsgjengen" keep being semi-offered on a number of sites. I don't have the courage to buy it from the foreign-language sites, and the English language ones just hint that it's due at some stage. Can you make head or tail of it? I'd love to see it - especially after catching glimpses of it on YouTube.