The limits of horror as a genre fairly vaguely defined. There’s a tremendous amount of sci-fi horror, for example, but mostly what you get there are gore and splatter films with sci-fi trappings, or straight-forward sci-fi films that merely have some scary elements; actual blends of both sci-fi and horror are fairly rare. For that matter, we have pretty much the same problem with comedy and horror films. Fantasy and horror is somewhat less tricky, since there’s a dark aspect to many fantasy stories that fits with horror. But if you go to dark, are you still really a fantasy film, or just a horror film with a silly monster?
Trollhunter focuses on a trio of college students making a documentary about bear poachers in Norway. Interviewees tell us that there have been a large number of bears killed by poachers recently, but each site contains anomalous evidence that licensed bear hunters are unable to explain. The students begin tracking a mysterious man who seems to be the poacher, but when they finally track him down, hoping to catch him in the act of illegal hunting, the group is attacked by a giant, three-headed troll. The hunter, Hans, explains to the students the next morning that he is actually a government agent, tasked with monitoring the troll population and killing them when they move out of their territory and threaten the civilian population. The documentary then shifts to an expose of the colossal secret, the existence of the trolls, that the government has been keeping from the populace. Despite some setbacks, including rabies and the devouring of the Christian cameraman by a group of trolls, the tape makes its way to the public.
Trollhunter isn’t much of a horror film. It uses the language of horror films quite extensively. The “found footage” genre and the “true story” angles are common cliches for horror, and Trollhunter makes use of both. But ultimately, while the techniques do manage to create some tension, the fairy-tale monsters never really quite manage to come off as scary or threatening. What the film does work as, if you consider it as such, is satire, mostly of the horror genre, but also of the “found footage”/faux-reality techniques that have become so pervasive. In that context, the inherent silliness of the subject matter works well when matched with the slightly unbelievable horror the characters seem to be experiencing. The film takes itself too seriously, and so the humor comes through from the concept itself. And while the “dark fairy tale” aspect is sort of scary, the modern setting isn’t used to its full effect. None of which is to say the film is bad, at all. Quite the opposite, it’s a stellar film, but it’s also only a kinda-sorta-horror film, ultimately being more of a fantasy-comedy than straight-forward horror.