MOVIE REVIEW – Netflix’s spectacle-driven, B-movie monster movie Troll introduces a whole new kind of Godzilla. It’s both a stripped-down Roland Emmerich disaster movie and a Norwegian kaiju film.
“You thought these were special effects,” the Norwegian prime minister tells his nation in a late televised speech for Netflix’s import action movie Troll, referring to news footage of a giant troll swooping across the country. “But this is not a fairy tale,” he says. “This is reality. ‘ There’s a flash of meta-humor in that sentence because the monster with its bit of a God of War-esque Kratos red beard, bulbous nose, and comically dumb expression really does look like a cartoonish but well-crafted special effect. It is simply not possible to realistically portray a 50-meter tall humanoid creature made of ‘earth and stone’ that leaves Godzilla-like destruction in its wake. Still, Troll (not to be confused with the 1986 American horror film of the same name or its independent, notoriously terrible sequel of all time) is more of a B-rated, conventional monster movie with no metaphor or metaphorical sense.
Leaving aside the self-aware aspect of a film character’s insistence that their film story is “real,” the film’s troll is not a fairytale creature reimagined or redesigned to look more natural with the quasi-scientific explanations of a ’90s techno-thriller or ecological disaster movie. It looks like something out of a storybook. And despite its use of Norse mythology, Troll says hello to American disaster films as much as it does to old Japanese kaiju films.
Director Roar Uthaug has also made a slasher film, a Christmas children’s film, and a historical thriller in his home country. But he is perhaps best known for his large-scale disaster film The Wave and his much-loved Tomb Raider reboot starring Alicia Vikander, which we think is rather average, to say the least. In other words, it has had several forays into Hollywood-style entertainment at home and abroad. Troll, like The Wave, feels like a scaled-down version of a Roland Emmerich blockbuster. Specifically, it resembles Emmerich’s 1998 version of Godzilla, adapted for greater speed and efficiency.
The Scandinavian Godzilla – do we need it?
All of this might make the making of Troll seem rather unnecessary – who needed another King Kong, Godzilla monster movie – but with a Scandinavian monster on screen? Of course, it’s undeniable that in 4K on a huge screen, Troll is extremely impressive, even if its story is rather woodenly simple.
The story goes that when a mysterious incident leaves what appear to be giant footprints in the Norwegian countryside, the government calls in paleontologist Nora Tidemann (Ine Marie Wilmann) for a consultation. Nora, in turn, reconnects with her estranged father, Tobias (Gard B. Eidsvold), a former folklore professor who lives alone in his small mountain hut while fervently believing in the existence of mountain trolls. (The conspiracy-minded freak who turns out to be right is another of Emmerich’s favorite, constantly used clichés that should really be abandoned. )
The father-daughter relationship, which is elaborately crafted and understandably quite clashing in the 1:40-minute film, is relatively thin, as is the development of the other characters: government geek Andreas (Kim Falck), soldier Kris Holm (Mads Sjøgård Pettersen) and government hacker Sigrid (Karoline Viktoria Sletteng Garvang) are the usual clichéd characters. But this unoriginal team still has a sympathetic, frill-free warmth. Even the silliest bits of wit are presented in a more enjoyable way than Emmerich or Michael Bay’s own lame caricatures. Likewise, the film refuses to impose high-tech McGuffin on its monster-movie simplicity: here, it’s simply a giant troll heading for Oslo for reasons incomprehensible to humans. They have to stop it from trampling flats and people, and they don’t know how. (At least until the usual two-thirds of the film.)
It’s all a bit pointless
The lack of a clear purpose occasionally stalls the dramatic momentum of Troll. It’s hard to get caught up in the obligatory confrontation between outsiders and the military when neither side seems to have an opinion about what’s best to do in the situation or even the options. Should we kill the troll? Or should we study it? Should we befriend him? This is not a film of richly portrayed sci-fi moral dilemmas because the troll remains firmly entrenched in the realm of fairy tales that have become a reality.
Troll refutes the idea that monster movies need any depth or metaphor. Trolls, for example, supposedly raged against Norway’s Christianization a thousand years ago. (In the Viking Age.) Of course, this troll that pops up recoils at the sound of church bells and apparently smells Christian blood. But the film ultimately doesn’t deal much with these details rooted in the history of the past, in terms of how they relate to fears or clashing cultures. At one point, a little-known character gives a rousing speech to a bunch of characters we don’t know at all, puffing out platitudes about not giving in to fear, but it doesn’t deal with the troll myth at all, nor, unfortunately, does the film dive into it much.
On the same simple level, however, Troll is a well-done monster movie: the special effects look good, the action is captured spectacularly by Uthaug’s camera, and the monster has a terrifying destructive power, which he portrays as if trolls were stubborn animals rather than evil villains. Even the monster’s official introduction, about 30 minutes into the film, is more a clever framing trick than the subject of endlessly drawn-out Spielbergian awe. Roar Uthaug is not a director destined for more extensive, grander epics, and that is one of his best qualities. He makes proper B-movies and is not obsessed with being the new Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay; he knows his own limits. And that’s the best for everyone.