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The 'Truth' About Trolls

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Mark Kermode | 09:35 UK time, Wednesday, 7 September 2011

I've just seen Troll Hunter - a new feature film out this Friday about... well, about Troll hunting. It's the latest in a long line of fake documentaries that started with The Blair Witch Project - but what is it about this genre that continues to entertain us?

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  • Comment number 1.

    Personally I've never liked Blair Witch. I find there is a fundamental flaw in the whole premise and that is if you are really that scared, please, please, ditch the beeping video camera. Apollo 18 is now in cinemas and not doing brilliantly. Cloverfield is OK and Paranormal Activity only works on first viewing. You do not need techniques such as handheld cameras, found documentary footage or real time filmmaking (The Silent House, for example) to create a good horror movie as there are perfectly good horror movies that excel because of the terrifying atmosphere without the use of the one single shot technique or found documentary footage. A good example is The Orphanage which is, in my opinion, the best horror movie of the last decade. The sub genre has never had a huge effect on me. I found Cloverfield to be entertaining but uninvolving and Blair Witch to be slightly dull and full of characters who were deeply annoying.

  • Comment number 2.

    Theres a really good found footage film called Alien Abduction: The Macpherson Tape (or Incident in Lake County in the US) which can be seen occasionally on the movie channels on sky, it pre-dates Blair Witch by a year and I remember watching it really late at night when I was about 11 and being genuinely freaked out by it. I did watch it again recently and age 23 did see it for what it was (i.e. pretty ropey but in a clever way) so worth checking out if you haven't seen it

  • Comment number 3.

    Sounds interesting. Although the troll film that I'm most looking forward to at the moment is the adaptation of Terry Pratchett's short story "Troll Bridge". The funding to finish this film was generated through a kickstarter project, and I think it should be pretty cool. (

  • Comment number 4.

    I really liked this film

  • Comment number 5.

    It's a literary device too. Bram Stoker's Dracula and Frankenstein are written as diary entries. To give the same feel of reality that found/documentary footage does. Also... look out MASSIVE TROLL!!! Looks like a lot of fun.

  • Comment number 6.

    I thought Troll Hunter was pretty good - beautiful to look at (the landscapes are incredible) and mostly very entertaining.

    The only thing that I think is a problem with the 'reality' genre is the nasty habit of trying to 'build up' suspense, meaning the first hour of is a lot of wandering around and noticing things in a haphazard way, before anything actually happens.

    Troll Hunter gets round this, as I've mentioned, by throwing stunning scenery at you, so it's easy to forgive. I just hope future filmmakers start to get inventive with the genre, rather than relying on the slow climb / quick fall mechanism that is the undoing of most found-footage thrillers. Troll Hunter does it well though, and is pretty funny to boot.

  • Comment number 7.

    I like the fact you mentioned The Last Broadcast. I rather enjoyed that film and thought it to be far superior to Blair Witch, although it has a strange contrast by the end as it shifts from the documentary style in to the 'filmic' section and does away with the believabilty of the main part of the film. However, in the cinema environment the audience is always going to hae to go in to a screening with the knowlege that they must indeed suspend their disbelief (with of course the exception of those who know little to nothing about the film as you mentioned was the case in certain screenings of Blair Witch).
    For this reason I find the realm of broadcast for this particular genre to be rather interesting. As is well known with Orson Wells' famous radio broadcast of War of the Worlds which sparked a strong public reaction from those who were unaware it wasn't real. But this reminded me more recently of a BBC programme in the 90s called Ghostwatch, which played out like a live broadcast factual programme but by the end had the on air "possession" of Michael Parkinson. This had my then young brother and myself quite litterally hiding under the sheets. What I find interesting now about that is that subsequent programmes such as Most Haunted Live in comparison play out in like they are the parody!

  • Comment number 8.

    I enjoyed Blair Witch and The Last Broadcast (and Cannibal Holocaust), but I kinda lost interest in the whole faux documentary-did this really happen? (no) thing after that. The thing I enjoyed most in these films was people coming up with a innovative idea and doing it with no money and loads of enthusiasm because it was something new and exciting. For the most part it now seems to have become just another (somewhat formulaic) genre.

    Having said that though, Troll Hunter looks fun :)

  • Comment number 9.

    I saw this a few months back and absolutely loved it. It was nice to have a faux documentary that didn't take itself seriously and try and convince us the footage was real. We all know in this that the footage was fake and therefore able to enjoy it more as a film than as trying to debate wether what we are saying is fake or real. I througly enjoyed it.

  • Comment number 10.

    I liked blair witch and whilst the faux documentary aspect was part of that more to the point it was scary (at least to me) in that the build up to bad times was slow and this enabled us prior to these happening to learn to know and identity with characters (also well utilised in Wolf Creek). Further no actual sight of the monsters was shown to the audience making us imagine what was seen by the characters, so much so that I thought I saw things that weren't there. Trolls sounds more like some fun, no doubt reawakening the eternal Kermode scary versus comedic horror balance conundrum.

  • Comment number 11.

    Dr Kermode ... much as I love you if you don't stop starting sentences with "So" I'll be forced to lock you in a room with nothing but Transformers 3 for company ... ;-)

  • Comment number 12.

    I would assume that people understant the "mock-doc" genre now but I heard recently that NASA gave a press release assuring people that 'Apollo 18' was not real. That is hilarious. Looking forward to Troll Hunter.

  • Comment number 13.

    I think it says something about how absorbing cinema can be, Blair Witch, even watching it years later is still frightening because you lose yourself in the film, it has the correct pacing and the right atmosphere. This is why Paranormal Activity never worked for me, it just seemed boring and I just wasn't part of the film. [Rec] was a faux doc and that was terrifying in its final act because it was well paced rather than slow and plodding. I became lost in the film, the realism factor helps enormously with that induction into the world of the film.

    On the subject of realism, Cannibal Holocaust and even Mondo Cane mixed reality with fiction to create a sense of realism, and both succeed, it is another tool used to lure the viewer into the world of the film. Even in Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer, for me the most frightening scene are those seen through the videocamera, in the same way the most intense sequences of Man Bites Dog are made all the more intense through the handheld presentation of the film. In blurring the lines between reality and fantasy and by becoming absorbed in a genuinely good film the reality of the horror on screen becomes realised.

    When it is done well, the fake documentary style just eases the viewer into the digesis more comfortably making the after effects of a horror film all the more potent.

  • Comment number 14.

    Although faux realism is flawed, it does have it's benefits - NO MUSIC to ruin the suspense. Many film and TV dramas do, at times, use too much music that becomes a distraction to the action. *spoiler* I recently watched Cloverfield and I love the bit when the leading actors are in the subway and then suddenly all the rats are seen running towards them, clearly running away from something terrible. Because of the genre of film there is no music and the suspense is terrific. Had it been a Hollywood blockbuster then we would have had music blasting in our ears and the moment would be lost. And the jumps would gave come from the loud music NOT the suspense.

    Hollywood, if you wish to immerse people into film, don't waste your time with 3D, just use less music. ;-)

  • Comment number 15.

    I don't care for the Found Film Footage Films. That just usually means everyone in the movie will spout terrible improvised dialogue heavy on profanity because the actors can't think of anything to say. It also means that they're all dead already so the point of the film is just to show how they die... Pointless. None of these films rise above being 'marginal' at best, except Henry:Portrait of A Serial Killer which isn't a Found Film Footage Film.
    I do want to see Troll Hunter and will keep an open mind. It looks like a comedy rather than a horror movie, though.

  • Comment number 16.

    I don't care for found footage because the shaky camera makes me bloody motion sick! I had to watch the last ten minutes of Blair Witch from behind my hands, and not because I was scared (I was bored beyond belief). The rest of the time it just feels like a gimmick - "let's remake godzilla/night of the living dead/poltergeist, etc but with found footage".

    Troll Hunter does look fun though. I like muppets.

  • Comment number 17.

    I don't have a problem with moc-doc or found footage films. I think individual films stand on their own merits or lack of accordingly.

    The way I understand these movies is that they are a way to get films made with much lower budgets and using almost guerilla techniques. Anything that helps first time and independent film makers produce films outside the multi-zillion dollar studio system has to be good.

  • Comment number 18.

    I think the best faux documentary I've seen is The Magician. Written, directed & starring Scott Ryan. I went to a Q & A with him after a screening & he was brimming over with ideas for next films but he's not done anything (that I've found anyway) since.

  • Comment number 19.

    Many bought the BBC's excellent mockumentary GhostWatch hook, line & sinker.

  • Comment number 20.

    There had better be some Peer Gynt on the soundtrack. A Norwegian film about trolls? It would be ridiculous if there isn't.

  • Comment number 21.

    I am really looking forward to this film. i hope it doesnt dissapoint!! whilst were talking about "lost footage" movies, check out The Last Horror Movie. a twist of sorts on the genre. it works well and (i find it) pretty disturbing!

  • Comment number 22.


  • Comment number 23.

    Trollhunter is a great film. When I saw it I found myself comparing it in a somewhat tortuous way to Tremors. Ok the styles are completely different but they're both just great darkly comic horror films that don't take themselves seriously.

    BTW that trailer should come with a bloody great spoiler warning on it. How many key scenes could they cram in to something so short?

  • Comment number 24.

    I watched The Coen Brother's 'Fargo' and read that it was a true story. I believed it and started to look up on the internet what happened to Jerry Lundergard.

  • Comment number 25.

    I really liked this silly but impressive and entertaining film. Trolle!!!!

  • Comment number 26.

    No mention of REC? If we're talking about decent found footage movies I found REC to be particularly, erm, effective. My own understanding of REC in particular, and how it works, is more to do with the complete change in tone in the final act; with a lot of horror movies, I find that the first scare gives you so much of an insight into the design of the film that an awful lot of what comes after can be predicted. REC developed and was constructed so well that the tension was extreme by the time the final scene comes around and completely shatters it. I don't know how well this applies to Troll Hunter, but I am very interested to see it. I hope finding a screening wont be as difficult as it was to see The Guard, but I fear it will be.

  • Comment number 27.

    Saw The Troll Hunter and thought it was a decent-enough effort, particularly regarding the small budget. It falls apart during the last third though, which feels rushed and not very well thought-through.

  • Comment number 28.

    Troll not a guy who hunts internet trolls, then.

    Film looks fun.

  • Comment number 29.

    I really want to see this... but... I live in a crappy one horse town and I'm poor. Why do I live in a world where the absolutely moronic Inbetweeners makes 30 million (essentially a tv show in a theatre... I can watch it on TV!!! I don't want to either... and Troll Hunter (something that captures the imagination and is definitively CINEMATIC gets a REALLY small distribution cycle. Oh it's in Norwegian, best put in it London and see how it does from there. If they blanket released it and made it AVAILABLE!!! it might make money... Grrrr.

  • Comment number 30.

    Here's a test question: which is the more plausible and believable film: APOLLO 18 or APOLLO 13?

    The problem with TROLL HUNTER - and APOLLO 18 and most of the other Found Footage films - is that we don't buy into the reality of the film because of the technique. It's about trolls. We know it's fictional and entirely made-up, and the insistence on realism doesn't make it any less fictional and fantastic. SUPER 8, on the other hand, is a proper film with sets and edits and score and lighting but we buy into the reality of the film despite the non-realism.

    Increasingly, Found Footage is not about about punching up the reality of a film, it's about allowing people to make films when they don't know how to make films. Techniques like lighting and editing and picture composition - things that have evolved and developed over more than a hundred years of cinema - are dispensed with not because it'll make the film more real but because mastering those techniques is too much like hard work.

    Indeed, it negates the very identity of the director as the whole point is to look like it wasn't directed at all. Because it's real, you know? TROLL HUNTER could have been "perfectly fine" as a proper film with no pretence at reality or realism. In pretending it's actually a real and genuine documentary, honest, guv, it undoes precisely what it sets out to be.

  • Comment number 31.

    The best found footage is The Blair Witch, which is rather wonderful because it still gives me the creeps and it cost the least of all of them.It works because fear of being lost,cold,alone in woods in total darkness is a deep primal fear.The film opens that fear like a pandoras box,seriously disturbing your subconscious mind.Also the actors to a certain extent arnt acting, they are very tired ,they are scared, i think the audience senses that reality, beautifully.
    Second best is REC which is a masterclass in editing and construction,loved the ending.Cloverfield didnt work at all, because the people are just so smug,awful and annoying.Non more so than the irritating jerk holding the camera!
    I look forward to the TROLLS, we shall see

  • Comment number 32.

    I think this genre has run its course. The Blair witch Project (slightly overrated itself) has been copied way too many times...
    The main problem with the Troll Hunter is that it's neither too funny not scary enough and in the end what you're left with is a lot of running around in a forest.
    Definitely not enough in my book. (If it had been an American film and not a Norwegian one, I don't think it would have got so much critical acclaim)

    Here's my review

  • Comment number 33.

    Blair Witch meets the Muppets? SOLD :D

  • Comment number 34.

    I'm a bit of a sceptic about Blair Witch myself. The only weapon in its arsenal to create tension was this idea that because it was shot on shakycam we could all suspend our disbelief through the use of cinemaverite. Didn't entirely work for me.
    I think it was partly because these 3 supposedly missing students were plastered all over film review and "behind the scenes" shows for weeks in advance telling us how they'd shot it. If they were contractually obliged to lie low for 6 months I would've been more convinced that this was a movie someone had found edited from the last footage they ever shot.
    As it was, the film was the law of diminishing returns... there's only so many minutes I can watch a bunch of irritating film students stumble round in circles getting lost in the forest and freaking out at stick men without knowing there's genuine jeopardy afoot.
    Ironically this didn't bother me with District 9 because although it was actually less plausible on paper I found the movie engaging, and you grew to care about the central characters.
    I think what I'm saying is that verite alone doesn't carry a movie, you have to be involved enough to care about the protagonist, otherwise I find myself looking behind the curtain.

  • Comment number 35.

    Found footage is actually a bit of a pet genre of mine.
    Blair Witch Project, [REC], Paranormal Activity, I just love them, and I really liked Troll Hunter. It had a really interesting premise, mixing the fantasy with every day reality, and I thought the format of found footage worked for the story. I never got a sense with it of "what are they still filming" like you do with others.

    I like the format because in order for it to work, you really have to sell the reality of the story. This is why Diary of the Dead completely failed, it used stylised editing and music on purpose and had none of the rawness which makes these films so effective.

    I think there's a lot of life in the format, you just need to have the right story like they did with Troll Hunter.

  • Comment number 36.

    Could someone please tell me where Behind the mask the rise of Leslie Vernon with its combination of documentary footage and movie set pieces fits into the faux documentary genre please.

  • Comment number 37.

    I recently saw The Last Broadcast and while it was a good film for the most part, it has the exact same problem as The Last Exorcism; the ending completely ruins everything that comes before it. I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen it but I don't think I've seen a film go downhill quite so quickly since Jeepers Creepers.

  • Comment number 38.

    I personally am not usually a fan of "found footage" and faux documentary horrors, etc. the only one I've actually enjoyed is [REC]. I just find it very difficult to connect with the characters in these types of films, possibly because there is no time in the movie devoted to any character development, apart from how annoying and shout-at-the-screen illogical said characters are when "terrified". I also think a major flaw for me is that the people starring in these films are never going to win any awards for acting (unless it's a Golden Raspberry) and that I find myself annoyed with the camera angles, shoddy lighting and bad (or non existent in most cases) cinematography.

    The worst I've seen is Paranormal Activity, I seriously hated that film, it was neither scary nor engaging. I wanted to like it, I wanted to be scared (or even mildly unnerved) by it but I found myself halfway through wondering why I'd stuck with it to that point and then the remainder of the running time wondering why I still hadn't switched it off; I guess I kept hoping that it would get better (I'm an optomist).

    I'll probably watch Troll Hunter at some point if for no other reason than I am a fan of Scandanavian cinema, but I certainly won't expect to be hiding behind my cushion.


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