Archive for July 7th, 2011

A Writer Reviews: The Troll Hunter

I’ve seen other movies since I’ve seen Super 8, but didn’t really feel the urge to explore them as part of the Writer Reviews series.  Lincoln Lawyer?  Very well plotted, and perhaps if I were to watch it again I’d have something to say about twists and turns within a story.  However this weekend I saw The Troll hunter, or rather Trolljegeren, a movie out of Norway telling the story of three college journalism students stumbling on one of the biggest secrets the Norwegian government is hiding: that trolls are real.

The movie itself is very well crafted.  I can’t speak to the acting, it’s so hard to judge that in a foreign language, but the story was engaging and the characters were at least interesting.  And the special effects were enough to keep the fantasy alive, which is vitally important in a found footage movie.  The quickest thing that can break the willing suspension of disbelief in that kind of film are bad special effects.  Fortunately the style of the movie allows much to be hidden through passing glances, scratchy film stock, and the occasional switch to night vision that can hide any number of flaws.  It has its faults, its plot holes, but at the end of the day it’s just a fun little movie and worth tracking down.

But this series isn’t really about reviewing movies, it’s about approaching movies from the point of view of a writer.  And seeing how lessons and methods from the film can translate to literature.  The Troll Hunter makes an interesting movie to approach because it initially feels very non-literary, largely because of its primary conceit.  Found footage is becoming something of a hip new thing in film making, spurred first by the success of the Blair Witch Project and has recent seen both independent success with Paranormal Activities and mainstream with Cloverfield.  It’s often used to tell a horror story, as it puts the viewer more immediately into the characters’ shoes which allows a more immediate empathy with the situation.  In many ways it’s the only true form of first person movie making.  Yes, there are any number of films directly narrated by the main character, but even in those we’re still on the outside looking in.  With found footage, we can see directly through the character’s eyes, even if those eyes are camera lenses.

And it’s been used in horror literature for at least as far back as Robert Chambers’s The Yellow Sign, published in 1895 and probably the earliest story I can remember that employs the conceit.  Now, let’s get some things straight.  I’m not talking about first person narratives when I’m talking about found footage literature.  I’m talking about the type of story, typically horror, that begins, ends, or is framed by the specific notion that the narrator is writing the story with the intent of it being found later, perhaps after committing suicide because he can’t deal with the horrors he has seen or learned.  Yup, that means it’s a Lovecraftian thing, and good ole HP was a fan of that style of writing.  Which means that a lot of later Lovecraftian writing has taken the same idea and run with it.  Hell, I’ve even fallen for the same trap.

Damnit, I just said “trap,” didn’t I.  Which really spoilers my entire thesis.

Found footage can be an attractive way to film a movie because it tends to be less expensive, and it’s a good ploy for putting an audience right into the action.  And, to a point, it works very well.  But a part of that is the novelty of the method, which is wearing off fast.  It was something new when Blair Witch did it.  It was something remembered when Cloverfield and Paranormal did it.  However wikipedia lists at least 17 such movies that have come out, or are still planned to come out, between 2010 and 2011.  It’s something that can quickly become cliche and overused.  Ultimately it’s going to be like any new style of film making where the first few films out can succeed on the novelty of the idea, but eventually something new has to be brought to the table.

In literature, the novelty is done.  It’s gone.  This type of story has been around for at least 115 years.  The jig is well up, and as writers we’re already in the territory of needing to bring something new to the table.  And that gets to my use of the word trap above.  It’s an easy way to tell a Lovecraftian story, as Lovecraft himself used it several times, and many people associate it heavily with his style and thus the entire genre.  But it’s not enough, at least not to this reader.  Remember that the story is essential, as it will become increasingly essential in the ongoing survival of the film genre.

In a way, it’s interesting to be at a point where we can see the evolution of something in film that has been attempted in literature for so long.  It can give us ideas for new directions to take the concept, and new ways of telling stories using the method.  Perhaps ways of even approaching things more like the edited-together style that is often employed by films, and can somewhat be seen in House of Leaves.  Whatever the future of the technique is, remember that cliches are cliches, tropes are tropes, conceits are conceits, and none are inherently bad things, they just have to be used correctly.


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