The whole Blair Witchthing is so over. But apparently Norway didn’t get the memo, or at least not writer-director André Øvredal, whose Trollhunter begins with the missive that a film studio anonymously received hundreds of minutes of bizarre footage and investigators spent more than a year “trying to establish whether this was a practical joke or if the material was authentic.” Dramatic dark screen, then: “They concluded it was authentic.” Of course they did.
Would the film be any less enjoyable without its this-is-real! gimmick? Nope. Not that Trollhunter will be this year’s Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project, or even Cloverfield. It’s compelling enough, but not so much that you’ll want to see it again—or even think about it much once it’s over. (Though an American remake is already in the works. Naturally.) The film follows a trio of college students (Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Mørck, and Tomas Alf Larsen) who are stalking and documenting Hans, a gruff man (Otto Jespersen) whom they believe is a bear poacher. One night, they follow Hans to a no-trespassing area of fields and woods and wait for him to emerge from the trees. After what looks like lightning and sounds like bloodcurdling roars, he does, running and yelling, “Troll!” Which is pretty different than “Bear!”
Hans, who had previously told the students to stay the hell away from him, agrees to let them tag along. (Mostly we see the crew’s “anchor,” Tosterud’s Thomas, and the soundwoman, Mørck’s Johanna, though Larsen’s cameraman eventually plays a pivotal role.) But they have to do everything he says. Sure, they respond without a thought. They’re a bit more reluctant when, the next night, he tells them to prep by stripping down and scrubbing themselves in a creek, and then douses them in troll funk. And do any of them believe in God? That, at least, is an easy no.
So off they go into the woods; that no-trespassing sign was actually placed there by Hans. The ground starts shaking; there are more roars. “This is one real bad joke,” Thomas says. Nope—it’s a three-headed troll, as big as the trees, and it comes running after them.
With apologies to J.J. Abrams, the cool thing about Trollhunter is that you don’t have to wait to see its monstrosities: Mr. Multihead is shown in full view within the film’s first 30 minutes. The creature is gray, kinda scaly, and rather hideous, moving jerkily but fast and menacingly enough to make the students’ camera bob furiously as they try to escape. With a blast of sun-intense light from Hans’ equipment, however, the thing turns to stone, and Hans breaks it down to gravel. Another semi-successful night—these things are killing tourists and woodland creatures—though an otherworldly-sized Troll of All Trolls is still on the loose.
Hans, it turns out, is no loose-cannon vigilante but a weary government worker, an angle that gives Trollhunter a bit of humor. (After each kill, he must fill out a Slayed Troll form.) Otherwise, though, Øvredal has crafted a rather pedestrian monster flick: The group goes hunting, the group is in peril, the group escapes, repeat. Jespersen’s Hans is amusingly reticent, but the students are mostly unexceptional, doing little but either marveling at the secret they’ve discovered or finding themselves scared shitless.
Made for an estimated $3 million, though, Trollhunter has some impressive effects; the story may be little more than a Godzilla tale, but the trolls never look like obvious CGI or cheesy models. Better yet: Until the very end —when more text tries to convince you otherwise—they make you forget that you’re supposed to forget that this whole thing isn’t real.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon Directed by Michael Bay
How it pains me to say this: Transformers: Dark of the Moon isn’t horrible. Director Michael Bay apparently did get the memo, in the form of reviews of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen that were so hostile they were practically their own art form. Gone: racist robots, head-splitting melées, muddled storytelling, and Megan Fox. In their place: a pair of tiny comic-relief ’bots that are actually kinda funny, boring battles, a clearer plot, and an equally vapid Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Hey, I didn’t claim this was a masterpiece.
The film begins with some ponderous voiceover detailing how the Autobots and Decepticons (or at least the Autobots, but who can tell?) were once a peaceful race until somebody effed it all up and they had to take refuge on Earth. It has something to do with the 1969 moon landing—Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin apparently found a downed spaceship there—and an Autobot, Sentinal Prime (Leonard Nimoy!), left for dead. Now, the Decepticons want to bring the abandoned planet Cybertron over to ours (er, somehow) so that they too can crash here. The Autobots? They’ll be exiled in space.
Meanwhile, in the human realm, Autobot-sympathizer and universe-saver Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has one diploma, a medal from the president, and no job. He relies on the good graces of wealthy girlfriend Carly (Huntington-Whiteley), who picked him up after Fox’s token T&A dumped him. But he’s constantly interviewing, trying to emphasize his save-the-world skills over his lack of experience, finally landing a mail-room job under a control freak played by John Malkovich. (Who tells Sam that he doesn’t suffer brown-nosing or “toolery.” Oh, but you’re in a Michael Bay film!)
Though the military (including, embarrassingly, Frances McDormand and the returning Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson) tries to keep tight control over all the ’bots, all hell eventually breaks loose. (Also reprising his role: John Turtorro, as some kind of conspiracy theorist, while Patrick Dempsey makes his Transformers debut as Carly’s douchebag boss.) There’s a deception among the Autobots, and then, around the 90-minute mark, it’s time to fall asleep. There’s still an hour left to go in this bloated marathon, and it’s all explosions and running. To the film’s slight credit, this time it’s much easier to tell good guys from bad, which makes Dark of the Moon a tad more engrossing than the first sequel. The effects are also pretty spectacular—even in 3D, incredibly— particularly during a sequence involving a Decepticon-severed Chicago high-rise.
But this is still Transformers, and therefore accompanying the mayhem are juvenile jokes as stupid as the title and characters we couldn’t care less about. (The A-list actors, though, get our sympathy—at least until we think about their undoubtedly giant paychecks.) Expect to chuckle a couple of times, be somewhat transfixed by the action, and require only a Red Bull—in contrast to the bottle of Advil demanded by Transformers 2.