It’s difficult to know what path a monster movie will take on its way to a satisfying conclusion. Is the monster bloodthirsty or misunderstood? A singular threat or a precursor to something else? Norwegian director Roar Uthaug takes a classic approach in several ways in his new movie Troll, now out on Netflix. Not to be confused with 1986’s trash masterpiece, Troll, or 2016 saccharine CGI children’s movie Trolls, this version brings a creature of Scandanavian legend to life and sets it on a collision course with Norway’s capital city while raising questions about who the true monsters are.
It’s a common question in the genre and while Uthaug’s monster doesn’t tread much new ground, it does so in interesting ways. Paleontologist Nora Tidemann (Ine Marie Wilmann) spent her childhood wandering the mountains of Norway with her folklorist father, Tobias (Gard B. Eidsvold). He told her legends of the creatures made of earth and stone that roamed the pre-Christian landscape. Stories tell of massive creatures, slow and stupid, who could smell Christian blood and turned to stone in sunlight. But like all history, it was written by the victors, and the Tidemanns get a chance to compare it to reality when an ambitious railroad project carving a hole through Dovre mountain wakes a massive creature and sends it on a journey towards its ancestral home. Aiding the Tidemanns in their research are Andreas Isaksen, aspiring author and awkward aide to the Norwegian PM (Anneke von der Lippe), analyst Sigrid Hodne (Karoline Viktoria Sletteng Garvang), and Kaptein Kristoffer Holm (Mads Sjøgård Pettersen), a Norwegian soldier who, refreshingly, doesn’t automatically want to murder the giant creature. Urging a more violent response is Minister of Defense Frederick Markussen (Fridtjov Såheim), who would be easy to dislike even if he didn’t look like James Corden.
What could have been all spectacle takes a backseat to a more thoughtful monster movie than most current American fare, and it’s refreshing. Rather than being a strict shoot-‘em-up with the beast rampaging through the countryside, Troll weaves in themes of xenophobia and colonization, as well as humanity’s instinct to respond to the unknown with immediate aggression. It’s an exploration of what was lost during the Christian conversion of Norway by Catholicized Vikings returning to their homeland and “Saint” Olaf’s Haraldsson’s violent baptism of the country during the 10th century. The cast is great. Ine Marie Wilmann does most of the heavy lifting, as a proper scientist who deals in evidence rather than fairytales, no matter what her father told her as a child, and her expression is wonderfully emotive.
Nora, Kris, and Andreas have a great rapport, and Tobias is a proper X-Files true believer. Troll is a physically beautiful movie, with much of its runtime set among the sweeping vistas and low grass that makes up the countryside. Craggy mountains, empty expanses, and a cool blue filter enhance the sense of loneliness, as do the Troll’s mournful bellows. The traditional creature design is excellent. Unlike some movie monsters, this one moves naturally with a physical weight that many CGI creatures lack. It matches the landscape and never looks cartoonish.
Most of the film is in Norwegian, for obvious reasons, and though the dubbed version is solid it’s much better with subtitles. For all its strengths it does lag at times despite the brisk 101-minute runtime. There’s too much debate over what the creature is, and at a certain point characters’ refusal to believe it’s a Troll from their own legends becomes comical. It’s a 50-meter-tall creature made entirely of stone and looks like exactly like historical sketches but sure, it might be something else. And the finale provides some emotional whiplash, from grief to exuberance so fast that it feels false.
Troll is an effective and family-friendly monster movie, with bloodless combat and few scares. Like the best creature features, it’s a movie more about human behavior than any external threat, and explores the way our past sins come back to haunt us. It’s a little padded and the plot is a bit cookie-cutter, but that’s no reason to skip out on a fun movie.