Monthly Archives: October 2011
Written & Directed by Sean Durkin
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson
MPAA: R – For Disturbing Violent and Sexual Content, Nudity, And Language]
“Fear is the most amazing emotion of all, because it creates perfect awareness of everything.”
There are good movies and there are bad movies. And then, as a paradox to that golden rule, there are bad movies that we all enjoy, and there are good movies that we will never, ever watch again. Such is the case of Martha Marcy May Marlene, an absolute masterpiece of a film that I will actually go so far as to say is a “game-changer”, as it takes a simple concept, injects an innovative film-making technique into it, and does so much with it, but with so much grace and so much subtlety, while still getting under your skin.
And boy, does it get under your skin. It’s so disturbing, uncompromising, and near-nauseating to view that I probably won’t re-watch it for a very, very long time. But make no mistake, the film is not graphic, nor is it over-the-top. It’s uncomfortable to view because of just how well it brings the viewer into the mindset of its psychologically tortured protagonist, played astoundingly by Elizabeth Olsen. Despite the film’s tendency to disturb, this movie is an absolute must-see.
Martha Marcy May Marlene opens with a young girl named Martha (Elizabeth Olsen in her debut performance) escaping from an abusive cult and moving in with her sister, who she hasn’t seen in two years. Despite being three hours away from said cult, Martha still doesn’t feel safe, battling through bouts of paranoia and lucid flashbacks of her traumatizing experiences there. Soon, she begins losing track of what’s reality and what’s memory, or perhaps even whether they are memories or dreams.
Many people have already been comparing this film to another Sundance hit that received Oscar hype (and a Best Picture nomination), Winter’s Bone, a movie that I personally thought to be rather overrated and snooze-worthy. I honestly don’t get the comparison other than the focus on young female-characters dealing with rough patches in their lives, and that they both star the amazing John Hawkes in a supporting role.
If there is one movie that I will compare it to, it’s actually my 2010 movie of the year, Black Swan. Okay, okay, now Black Swan is also incredibly different (perhaps even more different than Winter’s Bone) from Martha Marcy May Marlene, but they both strike up interesting parallels. They both deal with the fragile psychological states of their respective female protagonists, and they both like to flirt with the boundaries between reality and imagination. But while Black Swan was an incredibly melodramatic, bombastic, and near-over-the-top film, Martha Marcy May Marlene is subtle and restrained, never going too far, but still so close to the edge that the deep crevices of the canyon you’re staring into become all the more terrifyingly high. Despite the subtleties, it’s still just as intense–perhaps even more–than Black Swan.
It’s also interesting to compare the performances of both films. Natalie Portman was fantastic in Black Swan, but it was a really external performance that required a lot of crying, self-mutilation, and screaming. What Elizabeth Olsen does here is just as fantastic, but all the more remarkable because of how internal she portrays Martha’s psychological turmoil. She’s able to convey an astounding amount of emotion and visual information with just the smallest facial expressions. It’s the gift of a born star that you can just feel a woman’s fear just by the look on her face, and nothing else. It’s mesmerizing to watch, and I foresee a great career for Elizabeth Olsen.
Speaking of which, I’ve heard a ridiculously surprising amount of people outright dismissing this movie just because it stars one of the Olsens, despite knowing next to nothing else about the movie. Hell, my own economics teacher literally advised our entire class to avoid the film because “Ahh, the Olsen twins have a sister! Just when we thought we wouldn’t have to see their faces again!” This is just downright unfair, in my eyes. Just because she’s related to some much maligned actresses, doesn’t mean she deserves automatic disapproval. It’s especially annoying to hear when it turns out, Olsen is definitely Oscar-worthy for her performance.
I’ve said before that the film is a game-changer, and I am not over-exaggerating when I say that. First time director Sean Durkin has realized how done-to-death the psychological “what’s real and what isn’t” thriller has been, so he’s employed an amazingly innovative editing technique that truly does blur the lines between reality and fantasy. Editing is an especially under-appreciated talent in the film industry, but I hope that Martha Marcy May Marlene changes all that. Thanks to some ingenious transitions, the switches between Martha’s reality and her flashbacks are so buttery smooth that the viewer is truly immersed into the psychological state of Martha.
To give you an example, my favorite shot (that can also be seen in the trailer) is when Martha is about to jump into a lake from a boat, and then the editing suddenly switches it from her jumping from the boat to the lake, to her jumping from a small cliff into a river, and the transition is so fluidly done that your mind pretty much blows itself.
Another thing I’m not over-exaggerating is just how disturbing the film is. It’s not enjoyable to sit through, and the tension is absolutely nerve-wracking. I hate quoting other reviewers, especially reviewers that I don’t normally agree with, but David Chen from Slashfilm said in his written review that he actually would’ve walked out of the theater if it weren’t for the incredible amount of talent put into the film.
It’s odd. There’s nothing incredibly graphic about it, there’s only one scene of violence and it’s really mild in terms of graphic detail, and it’s also not all that sexually explicit like Dogtooth. Sure there’s a few sex scenes here and there, but hardly any of them are anything that’ll make fundamentalists want to “ban the filth”.
Basically, Martha Marcy May Marlene is disturbing because of how immersed you are into Martha’s mindset, how gut-curdlingly real her indoctrination is, and how relentless the paranoia and tension just builds and builds. You just know that something bad is going to happen, but it keeps staving itself off and everything all culminates in what is my favorite ending of 2011, featuring one of the most haunting and pitch-perfect final shots I’ve seen in recent memory. Yet it never goes too over-the-top, it never resorts to a high-octane chase sequence or a gore-fest. To give you a sense of how well the suspense works, the audience in my screening of the film literally gasped at a certain scene involving a knife, something that is actually rather hard to do these days.
Final Verdict: Martha Marcy May Marlene is pure tension, ground up into a fine powder, and force-fed into the viewer’s eyeballs. It’s a high that is exhilarating, but too much to handle a second time. It ranks up with films along the lines of Requiem for a Dream, Blue Valentine, and Irreversible: A haunting experience that lingers in the head long after first viewing, that’s hard to enjoy in the traditional sense due to its disturbing content, but also an astounding piece of film-making with near-unbearable amounts of intense, slow-building tension, a mesmerizing debut performance from Elizabeth Olsen that screams “Oscar nomination”, innovative editing techniques, and a perfectly ambiguous ending that will have viewers’ heads scratching for years.
That is all.
See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel like watching re-runs of Full House for some weird reason and I have no idea why. “Everywhere you look. Everywhere…”
Written & Directed by Richard Ayoade
Starring: Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, and Sally Hawkins
MPAA: R – For Language And Some Sexual Content]
A film can be easily redeemed from having an unoriginal or maybe nonexistent plot or concept so long as it has one or more of the following things: Personality, charm, characters to root for, perhaps a twinge of style, and an emotional honesty that any audience can relate to. And Submarine is that film, and it has all of the things that I listed.
When I first saw Submarine after renting it from Netflix/Qwikster/Whatever-The-Hell-It’s-Supposed-To-Be-Now-Because-They-Keep-Changing-Their-Minds-‘Bout-It, I thought to myself, “Gee, that was a wonderful time, but I don’t think there’s much substance in the film for a review.” A few days have passed since my first viewing and you’ll be surprised to learn that my appreciation for Richard Ayoade’s directorial debut has grown significantly.
It’s not a particularly deep experience, nor does it reach the emotional highs of superior coming-of-age dramedies; but it knows what it wants to set out doing, and succeeds greatly, nailing a tone that balances comedy without being too clever, drama without being too forced, and nostalgia without feeling too fetishistic about adolescence and I swear to Christ I did not mean for that to sound pedophiliac when I typed it down.
A little behind-the-scenes backstory for you: The writer and first-time feature director of the film Richard Ayoade, some of you may recognize from the British comedy show The IT Crowd, as he played one of the main characters, Maurice Moss. He’d directed some videos before, but had an idea in mind for a coming-of-age dramedy based on a novel of the same title by Joe Dunthorne. The script for it somehow got into the hands of none other than Ben Stiller, who saw a lot of potential in the project and acted as producer, even going to such lengths as providing an incredibly small, but still rather noticeable 1-second cameo.
tl;dr – If there’s one person to thank for the existence of this movie, it’s Ben Stiller, I guess.
Submarine follows a few days in the life of Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts, who I hope to God gets more roles after his great work here), an intellectual 15-year-old too smart to get laid, but constantly thinks about the adventures of love-making in the 1980s. Things heat up when the school’s pyromaniac Jordana (Yasmin Paige, showing us that not being the skinniest young woman in the bunch doesn’t stop you from being cute and/or charming) uses Oliver as part of a rumor to get her ex-boyfriend to bugger off elsewhere. Oliver, still hoping for a wonderful evening of love-making, persist to Jordana that perhaps they can actually date, rather than just say they dated. So, the two of them begin a relationship.
All is still not right in Oliver’s life, however, as he begins to notice a disconnect in his parents’ relationship and a potential affair between his mother and a pretentious mystic named Graham who creates self-help video cassettes that talk about seeing auras and shit of that nature. It is up to Oliver to save his parents’ relationship, while still maintaining one of his own with Jordana.
Now, if there’s one clear knock that Submarine has inherently going against it, it is that director Richard Ayoade, despite his talent, owes a lot to Wes Anderson, and more specifically, Wes Anderson’s Rushmore. Both films are about socially awkward adolescent protagonists too smart for their own good dealing with an unusual relationship. However, I think it’s unfair to say that Submarine completely mimics Rushmore. For one thing, most of the characters still have their own personalities that differ greatly from that of Rushmore. Also, while Anderson’s style is distinctly American, Richard Ayoade makes great use of the country of Wales, creating a film that employs the whimsy of Wes Anderson (and Michel Gondry, for that matter) while infusing it with a slightly bleak color palette and beautifully melancholic cinematography.
It also helps that the film’s hero, Oliver Tate, is incredibly likeable in his own way. This isn’t so much in part of the clever writing, which is still clever and rather funny, but it’s more to do with the performance from Craig Roberts, who does a great job at immersing the viewer into the mindset of Oliver thanks to naturalistic facial expressions, dry comedic timing, and wonderfully executed narration. The relationship he develops with Jordana is rather strange (It is laid upon specific ground rules such as never giving each other pet names, never exhibiting any emotions towards another except for laughter and sexual intercourse, etc.), but evokes a rare ring of adolescent truth that most films don’t have.
Too often I have to sit through banal exercises in plastic characterizations in today’s American teenage films. Even the good ones, like Easy A, aren’t the most truthful representations of what it’s like to be a teenager. Despite taking place in Wales during the 1980s, Submarine was able to relate with me, an American 17-year-old in 2011.
The thing that truly makes the film is the tone. Ayoade nails that right mix of comedy and drama. The writing is funny without being too over-the-top, the drama is poignant without hitting the tears too hard, the nostalgia isn’t forced, the script is clever enough so it never becomes annoyingly pompous, and the style is visually enticing and interesting, but never becomes too self-indulgent. The film’s visual flair actually reminded me a lot of a Beatles song, which may sound strange at first, but considering the setting, the grayish color palette that still contains a light-hearted tone, and the fact that Craig Roberts looks an awful lot like a younger, heavier John Lennon, it’s not hard to really see.
The film also contains some nice little references to French New Wave cinema (Almost every scene taking place in a beach evoked the ending to The 400 Blows), and while these are the only references that I’d say are heavy-handed, it’s still nice to see something referenced that isn’t Star Wars or some other type of geek-bait.
It should also be noted that the music is exceptional, and contains some original songs from Arctic Monkeys leading man Alex Turner. The song that plays over the credits, in particular, was so infectious that it got stuck in my head.
If there’s one negative thing I can say about the film, it’s that the scenes involving Oliver saving his parents’ marriage are weaker than those of his coming-of-age. It’s not that their bad. Hell, there was one scene involving karate punches that had me laughing my ass off, but it’s noticeably not as focused or emotionally resonating as the scenes with Oliver and Jordana finding romance in the most unromantic of places.
The ending is also a little too ambiguous for its own good. I know, indie filmmakers like to leave things open-to-interpretations as a little nod to the audience, but it shouldn’t be there to sacrifice a sense of closure that is much needed in any ending.
One thing I will defend about the film that some people are knocking off is that Submarine isn’t a particularly deep film, nor does it offer up any new insights in the realm of the coming-of-age story. But that’s kind of like comparing it to something like The Tree of Life. Sure The Tree of Life was a much more emotionally powerful film, but that was because it was an ambitious odyssey through all of life that really went for the big, heartbrekaing moments.
Submarine knows what it wants to do and does it successfully. It captures the small details of the life of its young protagonist in an honest, yet stylish and funny way.
Final Verdict: Judging it for what it is, Submarine is executed wonderfully. It evokes many other coming-of-age stories that had inspired it, while still standing on its own as a good movie with likeable characters, good performances, an irresistible charm, an appealing style, and some funny jokes thrown here and there. It’s not going to change your world, but if what you want is a sweet and honest film, this is an instant recommendation.
That is all.
See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch some of The Mighty Boosh. I’M OLD GREEEEEEEEEEEGG!!
Episode #9 Drive, 50/50, The Ides of March, Gears of War 3, Breaking Bad, and Contagion
Welcome to the CinEffect Podcast. In this podcast of constant douchebaggery, me (Chris), Alex, and Brady talk about film, games, and everything in between. After a long hiatus, we’re back with an extra long episode showcasing all the good shit we’ve seen over the past few weeks of our absence, as well as some games we’ve been playing, and television to check out.
(0:00) Tick of the Clock – The Chromatics (Drive OST)
What We’ve Been Playing
(11:59) Alex – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Dead Space 2, Heavy Rain,
Vanquish, God Hand, Dark Souls
(23:00) Chris & Alex – Battlefield 3 Open Beta, Deus Ex: Human Revolution
(Briefly), Gears of War 3
(41:02) Chris & Alex discuss their GOTYs and upcoming games
(1:01:33) Chris – Breaking Bad & Louie
(1:08:52) Alex – Contagion
(1:15:24) The Ides of March
(1:56:05) What We’re Watching Next Week…
(2:01:46) Where To Find Us On The Internet…
(2:02:26) Yellow Ledbetter – Pearl Jam (50/50 OST)
There comes a time when you’re watching a movie, and the most perfect scene comes on. This scene can be anything. It can be two characters having the most intellectually stimulating conversation you’ve ever heard, a fight scene with the highest caliber of choreography and visual effects ever conceived, a beautifully poignant and emotional moment that touches your heart like no other; it is The Perfect Scene. And because there are so many Perfect Scenes, rather than making a list like I normally do, I’d like to dedicate an entire post to dedicate one Perfect Scene, and analyze it frame by frame.
So for my first installment in what could hopefully be a series of posts, I’ve opted for a movie I’m sure most people are familiar with: Indie darling (500) Days of Summer. Be advised that there are, indeed, spoilers for those of you who haven’t seen the film yet.
Let’s start out with context for the scene. In (500) Days of Summer, the audience is already aware that the relationship between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel hits a rocky point at some point, but we at the very least hope that they are brought back together at the end. We are teased to believe this when, after a depressing break-up, Tom (Levitt) meets up with Summer (Deschanel) at a train on its way to a co-worker’s wedding ceremony. The two spark up thought-to-be-extinguished fires of compassion for one another, and when Summer invites him to a party at her place, we have reason to believe, as we’ve been trained by countless movies, that he’ll finally get his second chance and they’ll live happily ever after, by the end.
What happens, however, is a disappointment for Tom.
It’s easy to appreciate this scene for its originality and the emotion it evokes, but what I admire is the astounding technique put into editing this scene out.
Think about it, they had to shoot two different takes of a scene and make each one different in subtle but noticeable ways. Sounds simple at first, but when you add in the factor of playing them simultaneously in a split-screen, it becomes a whole ‘nother beast in the editing room. Everything has to be timed just right so that the right moment can hit and juxtapose effectively with the moment from the last take. I’d like to know how they filmed it. It would be amusing if it was timed with a metronome.
Many people said that they were disappointed that (500) Days wasn’t the modern era’s Annie Hall like it was hyped up to be, but admitted that this scene was one of the few points where the movie exuded greatness similar to the scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are talking to each other and subtitles displaying what they really mean appear at the bottom of the screen.
Scenes like that, and the Expectations Vs. Reality sequence are great examples of simply smart filmmaking. I’ve said before that the golden rule of movie-going is “Show, don’t tell”, and while it could’ve been easier to just show Tom’s crushing disappointment at the end of the party, what director Marc Webb did was incredibly unique and well done on its own right.
Displaying someone’s fantasies versus the harsh reality of the situation isn’t anything new, but it’s presented in a way that hasn’t been done before, and was well put together. It’s all so literal, yet it’s still able to speak so much more than just a mere facial expression about the subconscious feelings and desires of the character, while still maintaining a strictly visual language.
Come to think of it, the entire movie’s style is structured like Tom’s subconscious thoughts. The whole movie is in non-chronological order, skipping forward and backward in time as it sifts through the memories of a relationship gone wrong, looking for the one moment where it all started to fall apart, just as we would in our minds. Perhaps the smartest move of the film is that it never explicitly tells you the exact reason why the relationship falls apart. It just kind of happens, just as it would in real life.
But enough about the film itself, back to the scene…
Perhaps my favorite thing about the scene is the little details in the differences between the Expectations footage and the Reality footage. It’s like those things you get in coloring books when you’re shown two pictures side by side and you have to spot the differences between the two, and they can be as subtle as a missing stripe on someone’s sweater, or a missing freckle on a man’s face.
(500) Days of Summer is admittedly not a subtle film. Hell, this scene practically spells out one of the film’s main themes. And yet…the scene is executed with little subtleties in the scene differences. I especially love the bit at the 1:03 minute mark of the linked video, where she unwraps the gift, and in Expectations, she sweetly says “That’s so nice”, while in Reality, she just gives him a soft, caring, but simultaneously rather indifferent glance.
The more I see the scene, the more I appreciate it and how the filmmakers approached it. Yes, it drives the point home, and yes, you can be one of those overly jaded internet commenters who would like to point out to the rest of the comparatively idiotic world that the scene is simply just the director showing off…which, in all honesty, it could very well be. But it’s effective, well-choreographed, set to the right music, and–I almost forgot–accentuated by that sexy narrator voice in the opening of the scene.
That is all.
See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to immediately fap to Zooey Deschanel before New Girl eventually ruins her for me.
Nothing flies over my head faster than politics. I feel like as an American, and self-righteous, douchebag pseudo-intellectual, I should keep in touch with politics, but alas, every time I hear political news or the like, everything just hazes out of my mind, and I have no idea what the hell I just watched/read/listened to. As such, whenever a movie about politics comes out, I’m able to understand all the political talk of GOPs and campaigns and all that stuff, much better, simply because I just understand things better through the cinematic language.
So, most critics have been saying that The Ides of March doesn’t reveal any revelatory about politics, and even for me, the film’s truths weren’t exactly anything I didn’t already know. George Clooney’s latest directorial effort suggests that running a political campaign comes at the cost of losing everything else that you have, such as your moral standards, your friends, your passions, etc. However, the fact that nothing too new is brought to light shouldn’t be an insult to the film, because The Ides of March is a riveting motion picture.
The Ides of March opens with Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling)–not to be confused with Stephenie Meyer, author of the detestable Twilight books–and his buddy Paul (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) running the political campaign for an Ohio governor named Mike Morris (George Clooney). Things are running along smoothly enough when Meyers gets a phone call from a rival campaign manager named Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) to meet at a bar for a special proposition. Without spoiling anything, the meeting has much larger negative repercussions than Meyers could have ever imagined.
The Ides of March would’ve been insufferable without the tension brought by its amazing cast. While I’ve mentioned Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Paul Giamatti, the film also boasts Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, and Evan Rachel Wood, who is ridiculously hot in the film. Even though some of them have small, perhaps even thankless roles, every single member of the cast brings their A-game.
At this point, Ryan Gosling has completely won me over. He was able to make The Notebook watchable, he captivated in Half Nelson, he was extremely underrated in last year’s Blue Valentine, and this year, he’s had three films, and each of them have had stellar performance from him. He was hilarious in Crazy, Stupid, Love, menacing and mysterious in Drive, and here in The Ides of March he has the difficult task of portraying the character of Stephen Meyers, who goes through significant changes throughout the course of the film, and making it all believable and intense.
Hoffman plays Paul sympathetically especially since he gets screwed over by the end of the film, Paul Giamatti is wonderfully sleazy as the rival Tom Duffy, and while Marisa Tomei’s role isn’t too big, even she brings dimension to her role.
George Clooney shows us after his disappointing Leatherheads that he is still able to carry over his acting chops to the director’s chair wonderfully. He directs the film at a calm pace that has just enough tension bubbling underneath the surface to keep you intrigued, but doesn’t go too overboard that the film becomes unrealistic. He shows a lot of restraint for a subject that could’ve easily been handled in an annoyingly preachy way.
I’m not the biggest expert on politics, but I do appreciate the film’s viewpoint of it: That politics is a dark game of deceit, lies, corruption, cheats, and scandal. From an outsider’s point of view, the film still maintains its realism and feels authentic, though I’d like to know what a real expert thinks about the film. The completely unromanticized view of politics is something that isn’t new, but it serves the story well and still delivers its message thoughtfully and poignantly.
There really isn’t too much to say about the film, so forgive me if this review is shorter than most. Despite the complex plot of political intrigue and double-crossing, it’s a film that’s made with simplicity. It doesn’t take sides at Republican or Democrat (though all of the main characters are Democrats) and just matter-of-fact-ly shows us that no matter what side you’re on, the people you depend on to run your country have a dark side to them.
Final Verdict: Despite the film’s somewhat unoriginal message, The Ides of March glides in the strength of its stellar cast and the restrained direction of George Clooney. Even if you aren’t a political expert, you’ll still enjoy the movie as an intense, dialogue-driven thriller.
That is all. See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to make love to my Ryan Gosling love-pillow. You didn’t hear that from me…
Directed by André Øvredal
Starring: Otto Jespersen, Robert Stoltenberg, Johanna Mørck
MPAA: PG-13 – For Some Sequences of Creature Terror]
Trollhunter feels like one of those movies that I should be really liking, but just ended up not really getting into. You see, when you think of foreign movies, you’d mostly think of artsy-fartsy French films, cheesy Jackie Chan/Bruce Lee kung-fu movies from China, even cheesier Tony Jaa martial arts movies from Thailand, and basically all of Guillermo Del Toro’s Spanish work. Little do a lot of people know, though, that the foreign film market isn’t exclusively just for those types of movies. Korea has a lot of crime and revenge dramas, France has a series of films dedicated to parkour action, most particularly Oldboy and it amazes me how many mainstream American film audiences have never even heard of Italy’s Frederico Fellini.
The point is, we haven’t seen Norway churn out anything too special, but director André Øvredal has decided that he wanted to make a mockumentary blockbuster monster flick, and while we’ve seen plenty of mockumentaries and monster movies from other countries (The [REC] series from Spain is a notable example), none of them have really been on the same technical scale that Trollhunter has achieved.
In that regard, I respect the movie a great deal. It’s refreshing to see what other film-makers from across the pond can do with CG effects, and on a technical level, Trollhunter really is a marvel. The fact that a movie with such a low budget can bring out some very impressive effects involving gigantic trolls is a feat to watch. Unfortunately, there are a number of problems riddling the experience that keep it from greatness.
Trollhunter is the “found footage” of three missing college students who were planning to shoot a documentary about a bear poacher named Hans. If you haven’t read the title yet, or are just too dumb to properly reason things in your head, Hans is not a bear poacher in the slightest. Hans is actually a troll hunter who’s been hired by the government (well aware that trolls exist) to get rid of the trolls that step out of their designated boundaries.
While Hans is reluctant to let the kids document him at first, he eventually remembers how crappy his job actually is, and would like to do something different for a change. So he lets the kids tag along on a huge road trip across Norway to go hunting for some trolls.
There’s a lot to admire in Trollhunter other than the impressively low-budget CG. The film gains an advantage of being shot in Norway, which lends for a beautiful looking movie, even when the cinematography is purposefully amateurish.
The film also has a sense of humor. The entire production places its tongue firmly in cheek while still playing plenty of things straight and deadpan. Most of the satire comes from Hans’s partners who have to cover-up his Trollhunting mayhem by dropping dead bears off in the middle of the woods and placing fake tracks, most of which are noticed to be fake by even the most normal bystanders.
It becomes rather clear that writer/director André Øvredal had a lot of fun playing with the Nordic mythology of trolls and adapting it into the modern world, mostly by blending the fantastical elements of the mythology with scientific realism. Examples: Trolls turn into stone (or explode, if they’re younger) when sunlight hits them, so Hans’s main weapon is a huge cannon-looking weapon with a giant UV light on it. A veterinarian who specializes in trolls even explains why they turn to stone in the sunlight, which originates from a lack of Vitamin D in their bodies. And yes, Trolls apparently can smell the blood of a Christian man, so only Atheists are allowed on the journey.
Every troll encounter also feels different, which helps the film not feel monotonous or repetitive. There’s a variety of different trolls with their own characteristics (There’s one with three heads, one that likes to travel in packs), and plenty of different set-pieces that make them stand-out from each other. The first one is a frantic chase through the forests, while the second one has Hans wearing an improvised Iron Man suit to protect him from an up-close encounter.
Otto Jespersen, a famous comedian in Norway, plays the titular trollhunter Hans completely straight, taking a kind of goofy premise and making it believable and fun to watch. Seeing a slayer of gigantic and fantastical beings such as trolls acting incredibly non-chalant and bored with his job lends for a heaping dose of personality that helps the film stand out. It’s such an interesting character, and we really want to learn more about him…but, the film doesn’t necessarily focus on him.
Now, here’s where the problems come in–or in this case, the problem: Every single thing I disliked about the movie completely stems from the filmmakers’ decision to shoot it mockumentary style. Not only does it add pretty much bugger-all to the movie, it actually detracts from it a great deal.
We really do want to learn more about Hans, but because it’s not from his perspective, we’re stuck with a detached view that doesn’t allow us to truly sympathize. There are plenty of What Happened To The Mouse moments that I can see leading into some interesting back-stories, but unfortunately, are never brought up again. There’s a quick shot in which the camera spies on Hans hugging the troll veterinarian, which suggests a relationship bubbling under the surface, but it’s never brought up again and we’re left to ponder what exactly is going on between them.
Then there’s the fact that the documentary crew has to tag along with every single scene. Now, I know that having characters acting as surrogates for the audience, completely new to the things playing out in the movie, is an effective way of fleshing out the mythology and introducing all the rules of the world. What isn’t effective is that each of the three college kids are a bunch of twat-monkeys with absolutely zero personality.
It always felt like they were intruding on Hans’s work, making things worse for him, rather than actually doing anything special and helpful other than filming his escapades. They felt more annoying than anything else, and not in an endearing way. This wouldn’t be a problem if they actually had more than one dimension to them, allowing for some playful character banter, but alas, it was not meant to be. The documentary characters are so cardboard that they are literally expendable. Without spoiling anything, the cinematographer leaves the project due to his last traumatizing encounter with the trolls, so they pretty much hire a new camera-person to replace him, and there is literally zero-difference, other than being able to crack an admittedly clever joke on whether a troll could also smell Muslims as well as Christians.
Now, as cool as the troll encounters are, it would be even cooler if we knew what the fuck was going on and the camera wasn’t flailing around. Now, I’m going to be the first to defend mockumentary films, but they only work under the right circumstances. Films such as The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity effectively used the format to build a more realistic atmosphere that brings the terror of what’s going on much closer. Cloverfield did this as well, but rather than using it to highlight creeping dread, it was used to leave viewers right at the heart of a huge storm that felt incredibly intense and heart-pounding. And one thing that all three of those movies have in common is that they used the style to not show anything on the monster/witch/ghost/demon/whatever.
Trollhunter is a movie that benefits from showing you the monsters. Not only are the effects impressive, but a lot of the action is actually well-staged, or at least would be well-staged if it was well-shot. The climax in particular should’ve been cooler than it actually was because it involves a gigantic, 200-foot tall troll that can ruin your day in a matter of seconds. And while there is one really sweet moment in which they have to drive the van directly below the hulking beast, because the movie is shot from inside the car, we don’t have a good sense of place or even a good sense of how huge the giant troll is when it’s up close to you.
However, the most bullshit tactic that has come out of their decision to film it mockumentary style is that every mock-doc apparently needs an abrupt, unresolved, ambiguous ending that, in Trollhunter‘s case, is so out of place and so unnecessary that it almost ruined any good thoughts I had of the film. Several plot threads are left hanging, we never see what happens to Hans after his final bout with the giant troll, we never know what happened to the college students (Though in that case, it was probably for the better); we just get a black screen explaining what may or may not have happened and a cut to credits.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh on the movie. Perhaps I should be reviewing it for what it is rather than what I wanted it to be. I can understand that they still had to film it at a low budget, and most of it went to getting the special effects and the famous Norwegian comedian for the lead role, and that perhaps they shot it that way because they couldn’t get a professional cinematographer or professional equipment for more traditional action-movie blockbuster angles. Director André Øvredal was really resourceful in making this movie, there’s still a lot to admire, but I just wanted more of Hans doing awesome troll stuff, and instead of more of that, we got more shaky-cam action and needless side characters.
Final Verdict: There’s a lot to admire about Trollhunter. For a low-budget film, the special effects are really impressive, Otto Jespersen is fun and captivating in the lead role of Hans, and there’s lots of fun tidbits about Nordic troll mythology that you don’t normally see in American films. If the filmmakers just decided to focus more on all those good things, rather than keeping a detached perspective of the matter, axe out the unnecessary characters, shoot the film in a way that highlights the impressive effects and troll encounters more, and allow an ending with satisfying character and plot resolution, Trollhunter would’ve been much better. As it stands, it’s an enjoyable, but deeply flawed experience.
That is all. See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to troll some stupid YouTube commenters. TROLLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL.