Friday, July 22, 2011


It is immensely cheering to report that, just a few months after downtown’s FilmBar, another repertory cinema is opening here in the Valley: The Midnite Movie Mamacita at last has a Room of Her Own, on Main Street in downtown Mesa: The Royale. The venue “soft opened” two weekends ago with Hobo With a Shotgun, but the official Grand Opening is this weekend, & the lineup includes Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness & Andre Ovredal’s Trollhunter.

Raimi’s slapstick horror epic is an essential, no doubt. But I would also heartily recommend Trollhunter (Trolljegeren), a wry Norwegian combination of The Blair Witch Project with Peer Gynt & The Three Billy Goats Gruff.

It begins precisely in the Blair Witch format, with the conceit that we’re seeing recovered footage of two guys & a woman, film students, venturing into the wilderness to make a documentary. They think the mysterious subject they’re tracking is a poacher—an unlicensed bear-hunter. But when they catch up with Hans (Otto Jespersen, who’s excellent), the bearded, dour guy in the beat-up Land Rover, they learn that he’s out there hunting trolls. With difficulty, they talk him into letting them tag along with their cameras.

At first they think Hans is crazy, of course, but soon they learn that he’s on the level, & indeed that he’s on a secret government contract to exterminate any troll that wanders off its range. All this is handled so nonchalantly that it seems perfectly plausible.

The trick with Blair Witch, however, was that you never really saw anything at all. That’s where Trollhunter parts company with its model: When the trolls finally show up in this movie, they show up big time, in spectacularly-rendered computer animation. I was sure that this would result in diminishing returns—that the later manifestations would inevitably be less awe-inspiring than the first few. But the later sequences have tension & imagination & spooky grandeur.

I can’t say that Trollhunter deeply frightened me, the way Blair Witch did the first time I saw it, probably because Ovredal plays the film much more overtly for satire—though the actors keep splendidly straight faces—& also because trolls aren’t the culturally hardwired objects of terror for most of us as they might be for a Scandinavian viewer. But even if you didn’t grow up alongside a fiord, you’re likely to find Trollhunter a tense & exciting & witty fantasy.

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