This review of Kratt is a guest post from Keri of Warped Perspective. You can check out more of her excellent work by visiting the Warped Perspective webpage.
A gentle kind of mayhem reigns in Kratt (2020), a film blending traditional Estonian folklore with a generation gap comedy. Its brand of humour varies from oblique to very direct and, shall we say, universal, but you’re never quite sure what’s coming next. It would be a lie to say all of this makes complete sense, but in any case, it is charming more often than it’s not.
After a brief piece of historical contextualisation – we see way back in 1895 a disgruntled Count, his ruined manor house and an impish figure demanding ‘work’ – we’re brought back up to date, meeting our key characters. Two screen-obsessed kids, Mia (Nora Merivoo) and younger brother Kevin (Harri Merivoo) are being left out in the sticks with Grandma (Mari Lill) whilst their parents head off on a retreat; their phones are being confiscated, too. The expected protestations take place and both children struggle with the new rules, but they take more of an interest in Grandma when she tells them a certain bedtime story.
She describes how to build a ‘kratt’ – a creature assembled out of whatever household parts you can muster, which will obey its makers in return for a few drops of blood and a soul. This story links the family back to the historical mayhem we’ve already seen; when Mia and Kevin hear about the mystery of a grimoire which contains the specific instructions for how to make this mythical creature, they know they have something to do which is more interesting than content creation (although they do wish they could use Google Translate to help). It’s hopefully not a spoiler to discuss the fact that yes, they find the grimoire, and no, things don’t go quite to plan.
Meanwhile, there’s a concurrent plot line which takes in local politics, environmental concerns and conservation issues: people in the local area have been mobilising to try and protect a supposedly sacred grove of trees which has been selected for timber. The logger, whose livelihood depends on getting this job done, complains to the local governor, who espies an opportunity to shore up his own career by getting involved with the whole situation. His involvement does, by the by, bring him into contact with the kratt, leading to some of the film’s most overtly funny scenes.
For the most part however, Kratt is a fairly gentle family comedy, very eccentric and not a little meandering. It could probably stand to lose ten or fifteen minutes of runtime, and in some respects, it gets a little muddled – though this could be as a result of being a total outsider to the folklore. In some respects, Kratt has similarities to a lot of the coming-of-age, Stand By Me -style films, with kids working together, getting up to mischief and into peril, but Kratt is far more whimsical than the best-known of these overall. The kind of humour (and the addition of some gory scenes) creates quite a jarring change come the last half an hour or so, too, which may feel like too much of a lurch for some.
The real star of this film, and the character who really holds things together, is Grandma, as played by Mari Lilli. Not only does she capture the exasperation of the older generation when faced with children versed in social media and not a lot else, but her horror-comic turn later in the film is very funny and very memorable; the fact that she plays it completely straight is all to the better. On the other side of the coin, the governor’s shift from cool, calm and collected to a total shambles is bittersweet, giving the film some of its most obvious, or at least universal jokes.
Kratt is ambitious, perhaps a little too much so, and as such its run time is crammed with lots of different plot elements to keep track of, but as a strange, offbeat occult horror comedy, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. You certainly won’t see anything quite like it, and if it’s any indicator of the Estonian sense of humour then it’s fascinating on those terms alone.