In Norway, fairy tales about trolls are a normal part of childhood, but by adulthood, they tend to be forgotten.
“They become tourist stuff, cozy, sweet little dolls in a toy shop,” says Norwegian-born filmmaker André Øvredal during a recent visit to San Francisco. “I wanted to go back to the original depiction.”
Øvredal’s movie “Trollhunter,” which was featured at the San Francisco International Film Festival, opens in theaters today.
“Trollhunter” is a mockumentary, not unlike “The Blair Witch Project,” but with a more deadpan sense of humor.
In it, a group of young documentary filmmakers accidentally meet the grizzled, apathetic title character (played by popular Norwegian comedian Otto Jespersen, in his film debut), and slowly learn not only about the existence of trolls, but also about particular problems that arise because of them.
For the film, Øvredal created a detailed lore about trolls, including territories, various breeds, eating habits and more.
He even came up with a scientific explanation as to what makes them turn to stone (actually calcium).
“There are some fairy tales that are really scary. That mood is what I wanted to get out of the meeting with the trolls, but countered with the humor of how they actually function,” says Øvredal, who attended film school in Santa Barbara and shot a short student documentary in San Francisco back in 1994.
The filmmaker says he spent a great deal of time planning jokes, and switching them back and forth in the script between pre-troll sightings and post-troll sightings.
“A lot of the audiences take it pretty seriously until they see the troll, and when it turns to stone right in front of them, then there’s a relief of laughter because it looks so ridiculous,” says the filmmaker.
Øvredal believes trolls tap into something primal, especially in younger viewers.
He says the creatures once haunted his thoughts as he walked in the woods near his childhood home. Today’s media-savvy kids are just as taken with the movie.
“Last night I got five Facebook messages from kids about 10 and up, and they love the film. They have seen it five or 10 times,” he says.
Øvredal, whose first child is on the way, doesn’t think that the movie is too scary for kids.
“We’ve become almost too protective,” he says. “It’s good to be scared, a little bit.”
Starring Otto Jespersen, Johanna Morck, Tomas Alf Larsen
Written and directed by André Øvredal
Running time 1 hour 43 minutes