This tongue-in-cheek Norwegian Blair Witch Project is great fun for most of its run time, but its energy peters out and by the end we can’t help but lament the cinematic carcass of what could have been a great movie. Told in the found footage style of Blair Witch, Cannibal Holocaust, and Paranormal Activity, we follow a trio of Norwegian college students working on a school project – a documentary about bear poaching. They identify a man they think is a notorious poacher, the mysterious Hans (Otto Jespersen). They follow him into the woods in the black of the night, but it turns out that Hans is not a poacher at all, but a government employee whose job is to contain Norway’s pesky and dangerous troll population, which is scrupulously kept secret by the TSS (Troll Security Service).
We have some fun as Hans teaches the youngsters the dos and don’ts of troll hunting, like how Christians can’t go into the field because trolls can sniff out Christian blood, a tale our students thought was an old myth to keep Norwegian children in check. There’s a wonderful moment when the students recruit a new member to their team who turns out to be Muslim. When they ask if that’s ok, Hans, never having had to face the realities of the new multicultural Europe in his work, just shrugs and says, “We’ll find out.”
But the premise wears thin as there are probably one or two troll encounters too many and we end up struck by how little tension (or laughs) build. Also the found footage strategy smacks of gimmickry. All the movies that have used this method successfully have utilized it as a tool to overcome budgetary constraints. But Troll Hunter is a beautifully shot film, especially the special care they took to light the forest at night, something that was impossible for the makers of Blair Witch to do with their cheap equipment and limited shooting time. And the troll special effects are surprisingly good. Why muddy those positives with unnecessarily clever tricks? Still there is enough wit and humor in the front end of Troll Hunter to warrant a recommendation. (Rating ***1/2)
North Carolina beauty queen Joyce McKinney was the scandal du jour for the British Isles in 1977 when authorities accused her of abducting a Mormon missionary, holding him against his will tied to a bed in a country cottage, and raping him repeatedly. She claimed consent; they were in love and she had to go to extreme measures to rescue him from the Mormon cult (as she calls it). It is only, she says, his twisted devotion (or brainwashing) to Mormonism that compelled him to claim rape. Legendary documentary filmmaker Errol Morris uses the story of the McKinney case – her arrest, subsequent fleeing the country, and the rabid pursuit of the British tabloid press – to document the intertwining obsessions that created the story. It also stands as another in a long line of quirky tales of obsession that seem to, frankly, obsess Morris.
The release of Tabloid fortuitously coincides with the News of the World phone hacking scandal, but if you expect to see a take down of tabloid journalism or a consideration of its comment on society, you’ll be disappointed. Morris lets the principals of the case tell their stories and lets the inconsistencies and craziness speak for itself, but he misses the opportunity to explore the murky nexus between the story and the press’s interest in feeding it, thereby actively inserting themselves into a story and changing its course. The fact that the press took the story of some crazy people (and they all seem to be crazy with the exception of a pilot who went to England with Joyce and bowed out of her scheme when he saw a gun and a bottle of chloroform) and kept it alive for the sake of paper sales is only hinted at but never fully explored. Morris also misses the opportunity to interrogate the politics of exploitation journalism where fidelity to accuracy and precision of language are sacrificed for scandal and sensation. There’s a particularly telling moment that may pass many viewers unnoticed when a British journalist who covered the story is describing the days when Joyce had her Mormon missionary captive in the house. He says the man was “chained” to the bed, but then he pauses and says Joyce said she had used rope, but chained “sounds better.” What a stunning moment when a man who is supposed to be reporting the truth admits changing details because it’s wickedly lurid. Moments like these, however, are never followed up on.
As with all of Morris’s documentaries this movie is skillfully constructed and there is a joy in his storytelling technique. We can’t help but be mesmerized by the nuttiness of this woman who still loves the dumpy, unattractive Mormon and insists she did nothing wrong. She lives in a fantasy world, but that is exactly what we go to the movies to see. We aren’t disarmed by the craziness, like in Crazy Love (2007), in which we are disconcerted by the tale of a man obsessed with a woman. When she rejects his advances, he throws acid in her face and spends years in prison. It gets even sicker when we find out they began a correspondence while he was in prison and were eventually married. The message seemed to validate the actions of stalkers: Keep trying guys! She’ll come around!
In Tabloid, we relish her unabashed insanity and hope if we’re ever as loony as her we will at least have her sense of humor (and won’t throw acid in someone’s face). How can anyone dislike a movie with kidnapping, pornography, prostitution, intricate disguises, and cloning a dog named Booger. This stuff is gold. (Rating ***1/2)