When people list their worst movies, one flick that always makes the list is Troll 2. This film has it all: a horrible plot, actors who seem to think acting is saying lines as a three-year-old would read them, special effects that don’t deserve to be called special (or even passable), a musical score that often doesn’t match up with the action onscreen, an editor who liked to play games with the footage, and a number of random scenes and plot twists that make no sense at all. In fact, the only thing it does right is to get everything wrong. For this reason, many viewers love the film … or rather, they love to watch it and make fun of it.
But what if we’ve been looking at this movie wrong all along? What if it was actually much better and much deeper than we gave it credit for? What if it shows us the delusions of the protagonist’s tormented mind?
Think about it…
The main character, Joshua, is a little boy (or at least sees himself as a little boy in his delusional state), maybe seven or eight years old. We see the world around him from his perspective, which is especially evident in the dialogue. You don’t have to listen to the characters long before you realize that only a child could have come up with these lines. For example, when the mother tells her son about his grandfather’s death, she says, “I know it was very difficult for you. It was also very difficult for your father and for Holly and for me, his daughter … Grandpa Seth has remained in all our hearts, but you must banish him from your mind.” Doesn’t that sound like a child trying to talk like an adult? What about lines like “They’re eating her! And then they’re going to eat me!” or my personal favorite, “We need time for some things to happen!”? And let’s not forget various scenes that demonstrate a child’s understanding and naivety. Most notable of these is the “love scene” that involves turning a corncob into a massive pile of popcorn by making out around it. Along the same lines, only Joshua notices that the name of the town is goblins spelled backwards, even though such a discovery should have been obvious to everyone.
The goblins are Joshua’s way of dealing with his own internal turmoil. Children love fairy tales because they pit good against evil; the hero has trouble, but he always overcomes it. Thus by externalizing his mental conflict, Joshua can cope with it and defeat it. He most likely chooses goblins because they were from his favorite bedtime story his grandfather would tell him. Perhaps he even sees strangers like the inhabitants of Nilbog as hostile, and therefore they become goblins in his eyes. Through the power of magic and of good thoughts, he overcomes the fear and longing the goblins represent.
But the goblins aren’t the only element taken from fairy tales. Grandpa Seth’s role in this film is that of the wise old mentor, a common staple of mythology. Think of him as Obi-Wan Kenobi to Star Wars or Gandalf to The Lord of the Rings. The wise old man guides the hero on his quest, passing along important lessons and information that will aid the hero in reaching his goal. Occasionally, he will offer physical assistance, but he never finishes the hero’s task for him; it is up to Luke to bring balance to the Force, Frodo to destroy the Ring, and Joshua to defeat the goblins. This mythical archetype is deeply rooted in mankind’s collective subconscious and would be even stronger for Joshua since he was raised on fairy tales.
So is part of it real, or is it all an illusion? I tend to go with the latter, considering that the other members of Joshua’s family see and interact with the goblin delusions. Unless Joshua is psychically projecting his demons into reality, I doubt this interaction would be possible. Also, Holly sees Grandpa Seth in her mirror, calling for Joshua, and Grandpa Seth stops time for the whole family except for Joshua. Since the grandfather has been dead for six months according to Joshua’s mother, these encounters would be impossible. It therefore seems safe to assume that none of what happens in the film actually occurs.
But what is causing Joshua to hallucinate all of these events? There could be many reasons. One possibility is grief over losing his grandfather. Joshua and Grandpa Seth were very close, so after his grandfather’s death, Joshua created the movie’s events in his mind in order to bring him back. This way, the two can spend more time together, and Joshua grows even closer to his memory of Grandpa Seth. Another possible explanation is that he is taking out his frustrations on his family. His father is absent in his son’s life (immediately after their vacation, he returns to work, implying a workaholic lifestyle), his mother is controlling and manipulative (telling him to banish Grandpa Seth from his mind or forcing him to sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”), and his big sister is … well, a big sister. He has no healthy relationship with any living member of his family, so he creates a world in which the three of them are forced to respect him and listen to him.
A darker explanation might be that Joshua is a psychopathic killer who creates the delusion goblins in order to take the blame for or to rationalize his crimes. Under these circumstances, all the goblins’ victims would actually have been killed by Joshua. We could speculate that Joshua is much older and that we are seeing only his mental picture of himself, trapped as a perpetual child. At the end, he even kills his mother, presumably in the shower like a reverse Norman Bates, which is either the culmination of his killings or the memory of the trigger event. I also have theories about the goblins’ habit of turning humans into plants before they eat them and how this represents Joshua’s rationalization of cannibalism, but in the interest of good taste, I won’t go into detail on them.
So maybe we’ve been giving Troll 2 too little credit. Maybe the creators actually knew what they were doing and did it so well that we missed all the symbolism and nuances. Maybe this movie is secretly one of the best movies ever made.
Or maybe it really is as bad as everyone thinks it is and no amount of Over-Analysis can save it.
Troll 2 is owned by Filmirage.