André Øvredal Reveals the Genesis of His Acclaimed Mockumentary 'Trollhunter'
For most Internet-savvy Americans, encounters with trolls are little more than incidental run-ins with online provocateurs whose only mission is to annoy. But for first-time feature director André Øvredal and his fellow Norwegians, trolls – forest-dwelling monsters of fairy-tale lore who sniff out Christian blood and turn to stone when exposed to sunlight – have inspired a series of popular myths, detailed in books like The Fairy Tales of Asbjørnsen and Moe.
Those same tales, read to Øvredal as a boy by his grandparents, are the basis for his new faux documentary Trollhunter, which opens today at the Lumiere Theatre after making its Bay Area debut in April at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Rather than focus exclusively on the monsters, though, the movie is more a deadpan portrait of Hans, the burned-out government bureaucrat charged with hunting them down, played by Norway’s best-known comedian, Otto Jespersen.
Øvredal describes the movie, like his weary protagonist’s plight, as “absurd,” but Trollhunter is hardly played just for laughs. A vérité-style farce in the tradition of the The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Cloverfield (2008) – and shot from the perspective of three amateur filmmakers hoping to capture real-life trolls on camera – the director’s acclaimed debut packs as many jolts as jokes.
To Øvredal, 37, the key was to treat the material seriously, and to make sure his actors did likewise. “I wanted [Otto] to bring his sense of humor – he’s well known for this kind of really crass, dark, negative humor that everybody laughs at because it’s filled with sarcasm. I thought that was perfect. Every draft of the script was written after he was cast, so it was written with him in mind.
“We discussed how much humor of his own he should add, and we decided it would be so much better to keep it completely flat. The flatter he talks about his job and the trolls and everything, the more ridiculous it is. He simply plays it extremely matter-of-fact, as his day-to-day job – killing monstrous trolls.”
On the mythology that inspired Trollhunter:
“I wanted to do a film about a heroic movie character, but I wanted it to be grounded in something truly Norwegian. That meant placing the character in a world of trolls, but in a modern setting.
“They’re mostly monster-like trolls, the kind that scared me as a kid. Some of those were cozier and kinder, but some were really terrifying, more terrifying even than the trolls in our film. It’s a part of the troll mythology that hasn’t really been utilized since [Asbjørnsen and Moe] was published [in the 1850s]. Every time you see a troll cartoon or go into a gift shop, you never see those – you’ll see those cute, little, gnome-like things. I wanted to make a monster movie based around trolls.”
On taking a documentary approach to his first feature:
“That was out of the necessity of wanting to create something that should feel like a big budget effects film – something like Jurassic Park, but, unfortunately, without the big budget – with classic three-act structuring. The moment the first troll arrives on-screen is the movie’s first big transition. That's when Hans decides to allow three students to accompany him [on his hunting expeditions]. Then we needed to turn them, to [make them] believe what he knows.
“We needed to make sure that it felt like a documentary, but it needed to drive like a motion picture. Following that, the documentary madness could take care of the rest, [lending the film] an incredible sense of realism. We’re insisting that this is real. The trolls are part of a dirty reality.”
On the dark, subtle humor underlying his narrative:
“These are figures from fairy tales being explained scientifically, as if they really exist. I even researched it a little bit – what in daylight could kill a troll? I started reading about calcium production in the body, vitamin D and that kind of stuff. And I came up with, ‘OK, if they just get an ultraviolet ray, then you can explain, medically, why trolls can’t take daylight.’
“I mean, we’re explaining how a troll works, why they turn to stone, and the actors deliver it perfectly. You have to be completely dry about it – the flatter the delivery, the funnier it is. Norwegian audiences see this, and they laugh, because it’s so ridiculous to have all this explained in a film that pretends to be so serious.”
On how Trollhunter will translate for American audiences, who will soon see a remake courtesy of Home Alone director Chris Columbus’ 1492 Pictures:
“The reaction has been surprising, and very gratifying. This was intended as a movie for a regional audience, for Norwegians familiar with these myths. The fact that the story seems to have transcended these cultural boundaries, that people who aren’t so used to trolls can appreciate the absurdity of it all, is very exciting.”
Trollhunter opens today at the Lumiere Theatre. For tickets and showtimes, click here.