Trollhunter, screening as part of Philadelphia Film Society’s “Graveyard Shift” midnight-movie series, is remarkably charming for a movie in which concentrated troll stink features heavily. A genre-tweaking mockumentary that balances its handheld-camera immediacy with the implications of its myth, Trollhunter follows three ambitious but hapless students out to film something clandestine (of course) who discover that the man they think is poaching bear is actually on the trail of something far more legendary.
Though this is clearly a film that understands and loves its genre, there’s a slyness to the ways the troll mythology gets folded into both the physical and metaphorical landscapes. The trolls themselves have a children’s-book charm that suggests horror isn’t quite Trollhunter’s point. Not that the film can’t build a sense of dread—it gets as much mileage out of a snowy expanse and a flock of birds as other movies get from an entire dilapidated house—but the soft-edged creatures encourage the mixed feelings troll hunter Hans (a pitch-perfect Otto Jespersen) has about his work. Beyond the exhausting trappings of the job, there are clear parallels beneath the fantasy. Even for the students, the thrill of uncovering a legend is laced with environmental concern, since after a thousand years, trolls are suffering from human encroachment and getting agitated about borders. Even more agitated is the omnipresent bureaucracy that’s managed to turn myth into paperwork: the Troll Security Service, with its decoy bear procurement and troll incident reports, is an antagonistic fixture in the snowy reaches only slightly less dangerous than the trolls.
The mythic cant to the horror and the wide streak of dry, Scandinavian humor sets Trollhunter apart from the usual found-footage horror fare. The laughs and thrills combine for great midnight viewing. And there are enough views of crisp, snow-dusted mountaintops to take the edge off the summer heat.
Fri., July 11, 11:59pm. PFS Theater at the Roxy, 2023 Sansom St. filmadelphia.org