Troll (Review) – A Straightforward Monster Movie

DIRECTOR: Roar Uthaug

CAST: Ine Marie Wilmann, Kim Falck, Mads Sjøgård Pettersen, Gard B. Eidsvold, Pål Richard Lunderby

RUNNING TIME: 101 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: A giant creature is awakened after years of slumber, and goes on a destructive rampage…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

At one point in director Roar Uthaug’s Troll, during a montage of international news coverage (because there always is one in monster movies), a Japanese reporter calls the giant creature “a Norwegian Godzilla”. Of course, it’s a mere nod to one of the most famous movie monsters, but the direct thematic connection to the one in this movie isn’t necessarily to the Godzilla found in the old Toho movies or the more recent MonsterVerse franchise. If anything, it’s the one that few like to talk about: Roland Emmerich’s much-maligned 1998 version, best remembered nowadays as the one where Matthew Broderick subdues human-sized reptile creatures with gumballs, and with a monster so unlike the original that fans deny it the full name treatment by simply calling it Zilla instead.

The point being, Troll shares a significant amount of DNA with that movie, and indeed every other monster movie just like it, because it really is just a straightforward giant creature flick, albeit an entertaining one, since there is a level of charm in how earnestly it treats its familiar concepts.

Uthaug’s film takes place – in case you hadn’t already figured it out – in Norway, where construction of a new rail line through the mountains unwittingly awakens a giant creature from its slumber. Top palaeontologist Nora Tidemann (Ine Marie Wilmann) is brought in to advise the government on what kind of creature they are dealing with, but upon closer investigation Nora discovers that what they are dealing with is none other than the kind of giant troll from the fairy tales she had grown up with. Teaming with government aide Andreas (Kim Falck) and military Captain Kris (Mads Sjøgård Pettersen), as well as her estranged father Tobias (Gard B. Eidsvold), Nora must find a way to stop the troll’s rampage before it wanders towards populated areas and cities, causing mass destruction on its not-so-merry way.

Every single thing you can imagine being in a giant monster movie is present in Troll (beyond the actual monster, of course): the scientist hero, the nerdy side-characters, the crackpot theorist who is inevitably proven right, the stuffy governmental types who just won’t listen to reason, the explosive run-ins with helicopters and other human weaponry – and the list does not even come close to ending there. Luckily, Uthaug (also a co-writer with Espen Aukan) knows that he is making something that isn’t meant to be satirical or self-aware, but simply is one of these movies, and makes a decent enough effort to have as much fun with all of these familiar conventions as possible without feeling like it’s heading into parody. The fact that it is all played so straight, from the familiar but likeable character types to the sincere moments of emotion in between all the monster mayhem, gives it an oddly enjoyable charm because you can tell that the filmmakers really do enjoy these kinds of movies, even when they’re so formulaic that you can tell just about every silly direction it’s about to take.

It’s a neat return to form for Uthaug, who honestly needed a win after his previous film, the 2018 Tomb Raider reboot with Alicia Vikander, pretty much crashed and burned with most audiences (so much so that a planned follow-up is now dead in the water). Here, he feels far more comfortable recalling the kinds of monster movies that have become synonymous within popular culture, from visual nods to Jurassic Park, King Kong and – yes – Godzilla, to rather impressive effects work that bring this intimidating but also soulful troll to life. His enthusiasm for this kind of cinematic silliness does shine through constantly, even when it’s doing incredibly cheesy things that feel corny even in the better monster/disaster movies out there. It’s an unpretentious, goofy, and most of all caring script that he and Aukan have written, with the sombre moments being allowed to play out for as long as they need to, characters delivering one-liners like they were born to utter them, and a grand musical score that hits all the expected notes.

Much like the actual Roland Emmerich offering this year, the grotesquely dumb but thoroughly entertaining Moonfall, Roar Uthaug’s Troll doesn’t really care about the fact that it’s silly and unconventional – it’s having enough fun with itself and its own set of toys that it’s enough to make you want to play in that sandbox alongside it.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Troll is a straightforward monster movie that has enough fun with its familiar characters and conventions to generate a sense of charm for how director and co-writer Roar Uthaug really appears to admire and respect the well-worn monster genre, which makes it fairly entertaining even for viewers who might be looking for more originality in their giant kaiju pictures.

Troll is now available to stream on Netflix.

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