Wednesday, June 8, 2011

André Øvredal's TROLL HUNTER harvests low-cost scares, laughs and special effects; plus a short filmmaker Q&A

Hollywood, are you paying attention? If TROLL HUNTER is any kind of even marginal hit here in the USA, you can bet the powers-that-be will be all over its director André Øvredal -- and ASAP -- co-opting his and his crew's abilities to produce scary effects cheaply and smartly. This movie (only his second in over a decade), combining a creature feature with Blair Witch, looks a lot like the latter, had it possessed something to be scared about, rather than mere bushels of pre-release, internet buzz. Troll Hunter actually has a troll or three on view, and if that doesn't connote "scary monster" in the mind of most Americans, this is only because our country's moviegoers may be too young to recall a fairy tale that the older generation grew up with: Three Billy Goats Gruff.

Øvredal, shown at right, tosses us into a faux documentary in which some strange things are happening in Norway (according to legend, the original home to trolls, even though its government will never admit to this). There have been some killings of animals and even people, with the blame, of course, placed on other animals. Our intrepid investigators -- a young guy, gal and cameraman -- do their thing and, sure enough, they manage to get the great white troll hunter on their side and accompany him into the nether regions where... surprise! Well, sort of. If I tell you that what they find is exactly what you'll have expected, this should not ruin things because the expected is, after all, why anybody would go see a movie like this.

We get the initial suspense of "is there or isn't there?", then the "almost" sightings (seen via the popular "night-time" camera lens, above), all slowly leading up to -- yikes! -- the real thing (below). And I don't think I am giving away the store, as the poster for the movie shows pretty much the same creature in the same mode.

What makes the movie special is the fast and generally smart repartee between the characters, particulary that of the troll hunter himself (shown below; check out that reflection in his glasses!), and the director's and crew's ability to get such believable special effects so economically.

Granted, when we see these monsters in full daylight, it's likely to be only a portion of them (as below). The sound crew has also done a commendable job of giving us the kind of very loud romping and stomping that scares us silly, even in advance of being able to actually see what's coming. (We're told that trolls fart a lot, too, but Øvredal is no John Waters, so we're deprived of those classy, "odorama" scratch 'n sniff cards.)

Full-size and full-frame, the troll will be captured by the camera at first light, when colors all run together into a sort of gray-blue, which makes the effects much easier to produce. At 90 minutes, the movie is still a bit long, and I found myself waiting impatiently for the finale. That said, I'm still in some awe of Øvredal's accomplishment. After all the Kongs and Godzillas, space aliens, giant earthworms, vampires, werewolves, mummies and other monsters, isn't it time that the good ol' troll got his day in the sun (or at least his early morning in the half-light)?

Troll Hunter,  released here in the USA via Magnet -- who else? -- opens Friday, June 10, here in New York City at the Village East Cinema and then spreads out across the country in the weeks to come.  Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates.


We met with André Øvredal in the offices of Magnolia/Magnet Pictures a couple of months ago, while the director was here for a special showing of his film at the Norwegian Embassy. In the Q&A below, TrustMovies appears in boldface, and the words of the filmmaker (shown below) in standard type.

First off, Andre: How do you pronounce your name?

Well, you say it like (Ed: here's a phonetic translation) -- On-dray Over-doll

That’s easy enough.  I saw your movie at least a month ago, and I am learning that I should wait until closer to the time of its theatrical release, since I am more able to remember the moment-to-moment stuff right after I’ve seen it. That said, one does not forget Troll Hunter all that easily.

I am glad to hear that!

It’s funny to have two really quite original Scandinavian movies released here within months of each other. Last Christmas we had Rare Exports -- and now yours.

Ah, yes.  I have not seen that one yet.

You haven’t?  Oh, you must!

Yes, yes I must see that one.  I have been touring around so much because of my own film that I am not able to see everything I would like.

It probably not even playing anywhere now….

Yes that’s the problem -- It is no longer playing anywhere. And when it was, I was not there.

Both movies struck me as pretty original, pretty different and both based on fairly universal folk tales: Santa Claus and trolls. I remember from my childhood, reading stories with trolls in them.  But I don’t remember reading anything like that to my own daughter. Nor do I think that she is reading troll tales to her kids. Maybe newer generations are losing touch with trolls?

Well they are a very Norwegian thing, I think.  Because we have our own book of trolls.  But not just trolls. I think in our own country’s folklore, our collection of stories from all around the country, trolls make up only maybe one-third of the stories in this book.  These were written down in the 1800s.

Do you think trolls have more legendary history in Norway than in any other other country?

Yes. I feel that trolls are definitely Norwegian.

What I most remember about trolls is a story called Three Billy Goats Gruff.

Yes, yes! That one seems fairly universal. I have a British friend who also knows that story because he read it when he was a kid. So that one must be going around into different cultures.

The very word troll only brings to mind one certain thing. One particular kind of “monster”  But I did not remember them being as big as in your movie.

Yes, that is very unique for Norwegian mythology. In Norway they are said to be really huge creatures.

When did you come up with the idea to make this film? And did The Blair Witch Project influence you at all?

It did not inlfluence me directly, but I did know about the film. There is a Belgian mock documentary called Man Bites Dog that had a much more direct influence. It’s 20 years old now and in black-and-white, where the moviemakers follow around a serial killer. Quite a gruesome film, but that one probably inspired me more. 

I remember seeing Man Bites Dog when it came out, but perhaps I thought of Blair Witch because it is newer.

Also, when you are running through a forest in both movies, you cannot escape the similarity.

And also your leading lady looks an awfully lot like the leading lady in that film.


Yes, although Blair Witch was black and white (much of it anyway) and yours is in color.  Even though the colors eventually in my mind go to sort of gray.  Is part of the reason for this that special effects are easier to do when it’s darker?

Well, no. It’s nature, of course. Nature is so monochrome by itself. When it is snow covered, and the creature is supposed to blend into that kind of environment. Also we shot that whole sequence day-for-night, so it is really a feeling of night or of just before the sun comes up.

It’s very interesting, your ending. And the whole sense of the fun you provide about  how everybody in government know there are trolls, but nobody talks about it. Sort of like the sense that everybody knows Wall Street is fixed and crooked, but nobody on the street  will admit to this.  (He laughs)

Well, nobody in Norway believes in trolls, so obviously it’s just fun, fairy tale stuff.  So I had to make sure that during the first act build-up, we believe that these kids at the beginning don’t believe in trolls, either.  Until they actually see one.

That’s part of the fun of the film.  Yet you have all of this troll mythology explained, and all this absolute “trollness” going on.  Oh—and is the some mention of a Finn in the film, or a joke about that?

No, but there is a joke about Polish workers in Norway.

That was it!

And a couple of German tourists are mentioned who were taken by the trolls. But no Finns.

I am probably mixing up Finns and Norwegians. Typical American. Is Rare Exports from Norway, too?

It was shot in Norway, but it is actually a Finnish film.

I hate being such a dumb American. We may differentiate the countries, but if you ask us for specifics about DenmarkSweden, Norway and Finland, most of us will not be able to give them to you.

That’s all right. I couldn’t tell you much difference between your individual states in the US, either.  Apart from a few, that is. And our countries are about the same size as an American state.

True, but size isn’t everything....

But we are also culturallty quite similar. Norway had been under Sweden and Denmark for hundred of years as part of their kingdoms. First we broke free from the Danish… and then from the Swedish in 1905.

See: I had no idea of that! Has Finland historically sort of maintained its distance from you?

Well, there, even I am sort of lost. I don’t know that much about our history with Finland.  But I know there has been lots of trouble between Russia and Finland.

Yes. There is a wonderful documentary -- Disco and Atomic War – about Russian in the pre-fall-of-Communism days, and the border between Estonia and Finland, and how American TV programs like Dallas were sent in to Estonia by the Finns.  It’s a very funny film.  The Finnish language is very different from the other Scandinavian languages, too, right?

Yes it is.  Extremely hard to learm. I wouldn’t even attempt that.

Do most Norwegians speak Swedish and Danish. Or is there one common language?

It is more or less a common language.  I can understand a Dane or a Swede and they can understand what I say. Although they are a little bit reluctant to listen carefully. I think the biggest conflict is between Sweden and Denmark. They pretend not to be able to understand each other. So they often will speak English with each other, which I find almost ridiculous. They should be able to understand each other in their native tongue.

Is it like simply an “accent” thing – like we have here in the South or Brooklyn?

Maybe yes – but I think, no:  it is more extreme than that. We have many words that are different, and it can be a sentence structure kind of thing that is different.

(We get the high sign from our publicist that our time is almost over, so back to the movie at hand.)

So your film was very successful in Norway?

Yes a huge success there.

Also in the rest of Scandinavia?

It has not opened there yet. It opened very small in Germany with an expansion to come slowly.  Sort of like Magnolia is doing with it here. 

So were are the third country to have seen it?

Yes, and this is really the biggest release it will have had.

What are you doing next? Do you know?

Kind of. I am working on a couple of projects with Hollywood producers now. And I am very much looking forward to that experience. 

That’s exciting.  But I guess you never know what will come out of that.  But it could be a great feather in your cap.

You never know, of course, but so far my experience with them is very good.

Are these smaller Hollywood people? Or the big ones? I know you can’t talk names….

Oh, these are the big ones!  People I have admired my whole life.

Well, I really wish you well for the success of Troll Hunter and your future films.  Are these scary movies your favorite choice of content and your major interest? Will you stick with these?

Not necessarily. But it seems natural for me to continue on this path for now.

Of course.  How old are you now, anyway?


Well, then, you are firmly an adult.

Ah, yes.

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