A trio of Norwegian college students armed with a video camera chases a man they suspect of being a bear poacher. As it turns out, Hans the hunter (Otto Jesperson) has a much more arcane purpose to his clandestine activities, namely regulating the troll population on behalf of the Norwegian government.

Like most people who’ve sat through Troll Hunter, I dug the hell out of its confident blending of mockumentary, humor, horror, and conspiracy theory. The troll FX are wizardly; the “mythical” giants are marvelous creations that come to life as sinister (though familiar) fairy tale terrors with a taste for automobile tires and sheep. As Hans explains to the incredulous students, there are all kinds of trolls: Some are 200 feet tall. Some have more than one head. Some can be found under bridges. And they all live in particular territories. It’s Hans’ job to track and kill the creatures if they leave their stomping grounds, lest they upset the delicate balance of nature, which usually ends up with people getting crushed or eaten. Writer-director André Ovredal has a keen sense of all the disparate elements at work here, and his cinematic finesse in creating a vivid mythology on the fly instantly makes him a filmmaker worth following.

If I had to make a complaint, it’s that Troll Hunter is a little light on gore and fright intensity. There is a jaunty lightness of mood that permeates the action, resulting in plot developments—like the death of a major character—that lack any genuine impact. In other words, Ovredal sacrifices fear for fun. It’s not much of a misstep, and it goes a long way toward explaining the movie’s popularity at indie and second-run cinemas. Gambling on an audience’s preference for snickering instead of screaming is probably a smart move if you’re looking down the road at career longevity.

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