Trollhunter (Norway, 2010)

This isn’t my first time seeing this André Øvredal film, and anyone who’s seen it can understand why I had to watch it again: it’s just that good.

You’ll Believe It When You See It

Set up as a found-footage mockumentary in the spirit of The Blair Witch Project, the film follows a group of three intrepid film students from Volda College shooting a documentary on bear poaching. They focus on an elusive and enigmatic man named Hans who is rumored to be hunting bears illegally. We meet Kalle the cameraman, Johanna on sound, and the lead filmmaker Thomas.

As they travel from Volda to Sogn og Fjordane County in pursuit of Hans, he repeatedly tells them to back off: “It isn’t very smart to follow me.” When he reveals that he’s a trollhunter, the crew understandably doesn’t believe him, but he allows them to keep filming as long as they promise to do exactly as he says. “No one here believes in God or Jesus?” he asks them. They all affirm that they do not. (Of course, it wouldn’t be much fun if they were all telling the truth, would it?) Only when Thomas, Johanna, and Kalle see the trolls for themselves do they begin to grasp what they’ve gotten themselves into. However, once they make it through the first night, their fear turns to excitement as they realize that the bizarre world they’ve stumbled upon is a documentarian’s dream.

Government Secrets

It turns out that Hans works for the TSS—Troll Security Service—a division of the Wildlife Board, who put him in charge of troll control. He’s the only trollhunter in Norway. He explains: “My job is to kill any troll that breaks out of its territory and comes near people.” This bureaucracy aspect lends a touch of humor to the film. Indeed, Trollhunter is a masterful blend of fantasy, comedy, and horror. (Otto Jespersen, the actor who plays Hans, is a noted—and controversial—Norwegian comedian.)  “Fairy tales don’t usually match reality,” Hans tells the filmmakers, to which Thomas cheekily replies: “They seem to in this case.”

Glenn_Erland_Tosterud
Glenn Erland Tosterud, who plays Thomas in Trollhunter. (Image: Simon Guirlinger, distributed by CC BY-SA 3.0 license)

Science works alongside bureaucracy to cast a disenchanting mundaneness on the troll-laden fantasy in which Thomas, Johanna, and Kalle find themselves. A veterinarian named Hilde (who is hinted to be Hans’s love interest) informs us that “the trolls’ main problem is that they can’t convert Vitamin D, from the sunlight, into calcium. So when they are exposed to bright sunlight, their bodies overreact. Their stomachs expand. Gases are forced into their intestines and veins. This becomes unbearable.” Older ones, however, suffer a different fate: “Their veins are too constricted, so the expansion occurs in their bones. In a matter of seconds, everything calcifies and they turn to stone.”

We learn that there are an unusual amount of trolls moving around at this time. But why is Hans letting them watch what he does? “Because I’m tired of the shitty job. I have no rights whatsoever. I get no night bonus. No overtime. No nuisance compensation. Maybe it’s time for change in troll management. So if you could get this on TV…” We learn that there are an unusual amount of trolls moving around at this time. Conflict between mountain trolls and woodland trolls, as well as a rabies epidemic, have led to increasingly erratic troll behavior, possibly compounded by effects of global warming. Bigger trolls are breaking out of their territory and coming closer and closer to human settlements, making more work for Hans. The film’s ending is brilliant; the group’s final showdown with the enormous 200-foot-tall Jotnar troll is a nail-biter, even when you’ve seen the film before, but in the end, it turns out that it might not be the trolls that they have to worry about…

Up Next…

The Rose Seller (Colombia, 1998)

SistaGod (Trinidad and Tobago, 2006)

I can say without any exaggeration that SistaGod is one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Written and directed by Yao Ramesar, it’s the first in a trilogy of experimental films about an enigmatic young Trinidadian woman named Mari, whose dreams herald death and destruction. Set over an eerie soundtrack and jerky camerawork, SistaGod is as unsettling as it is compelling. The tempo of the film is strange, at times slow, at times fast, making the film seem disconnected from time altogether

Endings and Beginnings

SistaGod contains almost no dialogue, relying mostly on Mari’s narration to tell the story. Indeed, the first twenty minutes or so are a monologue delivered by her. Her narrations are powerful and poetic, so please forgive me when I quote them at length. Mari tells us that her father was an American Marine sniper who served in Desert Storm. He suffered brain damage, and “My mother, his caregiver, nursed him back to health.” She continues: “I was conceived in the cemetery next to our house. I was born a throwblack, came out darker than expected,” so her father suspected that she was not his child and left. As a result, “My mother spent most of the rest of her life in the asylum, or madhouse, thumbing through the memories of her one great romance. She tried her best to salvage some status, making sure I spoke and thought in standard English, making sure that even though I only had one dress, it was a good dress.”

Mari is surrounded by death from the start: “Living on Cemetery Street, my next-door neighbors were dead people, their restless souls threatening to possess us all.” Perhaps it is her familiarity with death that enables her to cheat it at an early age: “On my ninth birthday, I picked some poison berries. I don’t know who or what made me pick or eat them, but they stained my tongue black and nearly killed me, or so my mother claimed.” Regardless, this experience gives her supernatural and clairvoyant powers: “When I was 18, a spirit entered me telling me I was God, to prepare for the end of life as we knew it.” Mari’s mother orders that she be exorcised, but the exorcism only strengthens her newfound spiritual powers.

The Coming of SistaGod

Mari soon reveals that she is pregnant, presumably with the child of God (or perhaps, in a less fanciful interpretation, the child of the man who administered her exorcism). “When my mother found out that I was pregnant,” we learn, “she threatened to kill herself, jump off the waterfall. After they subdued her, she started sewing a Carnival costume for me.” We see the main character, fittingly enough, dressed as a Carnival character known as Baby Doll, an unwed mother. (The backstory of Baby Doll is explained here.) In the lacy white costume, Mari looks ghostly and frightening. And with this costume, she transforms into SistaGod.

Only SistaGod knows that this Carnival would mark the end of the world—the Apocalypso, as she calls it. “While we were waiting on the next epidemic, or the next World War,” she narrates, “we went out with a whimper: ‘Save the Earth.’ The earth survived. People disappeared, everybody in the blink of an eye. At least they went out playing mas. They all took their final vows before the mass [or mas!] destruction.” Some of the masquerade dancers faint and then begin flailing. Is it an act? Is this the work of SistaGod? Nothing seems certain in this movie.

All that is certain is that, following Carnival, SistaGod finds herself alone: “Then they were gone. Even those in Hell and beyond. I alone survived the Apocalypso. I looked at all the names in the departure lounge. Only the gods were left standing.” Wikipedia calls the film a fantasy. I guess that’s accurate. I’m really not sure it fits into any genre, but fantasy is as good a category as any. (Oh, and one other thing is certain: This is a phenomenal film and you must check it out, if possible!)

Up Next…

Confusion Na Wa (Nigeria, 2013)