Tag Archives: Andre Ovredal

Norwegian Would


by Hope Madden

André Øvredal is a hard filmmaker to pin down. After his 2010 breakout Trollhunter, a giddy found footage flick concerning the impact giant trolls have on his native Norway, the writer/director got far more serious with his 2016 sophomore effort, the excellent horror show The Autopsy of Jane Doe.

Then it was all visuals and atmosphere in the more family friendly genre fare Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. And now he abandons any hint of horror, returning to the mythology of his homeland for a superhero tale of sorts, Mortal.

Nat Wolff is Eric, a disheveled American in Norway. He keeps to the forests, isolates, but eventually runs afoul of a car full of teenage d-bags—much to the dismay of the marauding teens.

Under arrest and awaiting an American convoy, he’s befriended by Christine (Iben Akerlie) the Norwegian therapist asked to speak with him. She’s the first to recognize his burgeoning but uncontrolled powers, although the Americans who are coming for him seem to have some inkling.

What Øvredal has done here is to reimagine the superhero origin story. True to its title, Mortal examines a very human character, weighing the guilt, pressure, confusion and fear that come with this territory.

Some comic franchises—the X-Men, in particular—ask whether humankind is ready or even worthy of superior beings. Mortal does the same. In fact, it does a lot of the same things you’ve seen in other origin stories and superhero franchises. Its uniqueness may be in the afterthought about how the world would construe the existence of a superhero in terms of religious implications.

This is one of the truly interesting thoughts the film injects into the overcrowded genre. It’s not well developed, unfortunately. But there is something akin to swagger in watching this mid-budget action thriller wrangle Norway’s own mythology away from a far showier, exponentially more famous universe.

Come to the Lab, See What’s On the Slab

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

by George Wolf

An unidentified body is found buried in the dirt at an unusual crime scene. The county coroner and his assistant/son begin an autopsy, immediately discovering unsettling things. As they dig for more answers, unsettling gradually turns to terrifying.

In 2010, director Andre Ovredal made Trollhunter a fresh blast of B-movie fun. He brings a similar vibe to The Autopsy of Jane Doe, a film with enough wry smarts and acting chops to deliver more satisfying scares than you might expect.

Ovredal, along with screenwriters Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing, knows the payoff is weaker than the premise, so he makes sure you’re plenty invested early on, earning some capital that will be spent when things get a bit silly. Talented leads don’t hurt, either.

As Coroner Tom Tilden and his son Austin, Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch display an easy chemistry and deliver a solid anchor of believability to build upon. We trust these guys, and we don’t doubt they truly want to do right by the young victim through science, and learn the source of her painful death.

That there is plenty of gruesome body horror should be no surprise, but the under-reliance on a bevy of special effects is a nice one. Even better is Ovredal’s treatment of his lead actress (Olwen Kelly). Yes, the female body on the slab is young, attractive (at least to start) and constantly nude, but the director seems careful not to further exploit that fact with a leering camera, focusing instead on making it increasingly difficult to look her way.

Once the Tildens realize they’re in a literally bloody mess, Jane Doe becomes an adult version of Lights Out, delivering jump scares and red herrings with a knowing, playful touch that says “Why so serious? Let’s have some fun!”

You will, right down to the final shot.


Thump, Thump, Draaaag

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

by Hope Madden

Was there a story you heard as a kid that scared you sleepless? Mine was Bloody Fingers, the tale of a mangled man who dragged his carcass toward you. You could hear him coming: thump, thump, draaaaag. My neighbor used to sneak up behind me muttering those terrifying words.

Writer Alvin Schwartz knew how to work a kid’s nerves even better than my neighbor. Inspired by campfire tales and urban legends, he spun yarns for maximum kid fright, then paired them—and this is the important part—with the inspired line drawings by Stephen Gammell. The result, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, became the go-to for kids who like to be scared and schools who like to ban books.

Director André Øvredal (TrollHunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe) and co-writer Guillermo del Toro both know something about tingling the spine. Together with a team of writers—some veterans of horror, some of family films—they’ve created an affectionate and scary ode to the old series of books.

Set in Mill Town, Pennsylvania around Halloween, 1968—trees are turning, Nixon is about to be elected, Night of the Living Dead is showing at the drive in—Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark follows three wholesome high school outcasts and a handsome out-of-towner. On the run from the Vietnam-bound, letter-jacket wearing bully, they hide in the old, abandoned Bellows place. The town says the house is haunted.

Sounds a little cliched, right? The kind of story you’ve heard over and over, but that’s exactly the point. To begin to tell Schwartz’s tales—all of them pulled from the collective unconscious, all of them drawing on those same old stories that were new to us as kids—Øvredal sets a familiar and appropriate stage.

His framing device works well enough for a while. Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), who hopes to be a writer herself, swipes creepy old child killer Sarah Bellows’s book of stories, but when she gets them home, new stories write themselves in the blank pages and, one by one, the kids in Mill Town go missing.

This is what PG-13 horror should look like. Yes, like most of the genre films engineered for youngsters, Scary Stories rehashes tropes familiar to adult viewers, but Øvredal’s clear fondness for the terrifying source material, especially the illustrations, gives the film the primal, almost grotesque innocence of a childhood nightmare.

The film’s tone is spot-on, performances solid and the set design and practical effects glorious. This is more than an anthology of shorts. It’s a cohesive whole that contains a handful of Schwartz’s nightmares, but the whole is not as great as the sum of its parts. Too heavy with clichés in the framing device, the film loses steam as it rolls into its third act.

An analogy of lost innocence, nostalgic without becoming too sentimental, this is old school scary, as unapologetically unoriginal as its source material and almost as effective.