Interview with Kratt director Rasmus Merivoo

Keri of Warped Perspective follows her review of Kratt with an interview with director Rasmus Merivoo.

As part of Scared Sheepless’s coverage of the Fantasia International Film Festival this year, I was very happy to offer a guest feature on an unusual title called Kratt (2021). Better still, we were contacted this week with regards to speaking to the director, Rasmus, about the ideas behind his film and how things have been going since its premiere. Look out for a release of Kratt, which is currently still running on the festival circuit but will hopefully on general release in the not-too-distant future, and in the meantime, here’s Rasmus on a film he describes as “a mullet haircut: business in the front, party in the back”!

1) Thank you very much for speaking with us! Firstly, the idea of the ‘kratt’ is quite novel; I hadn’t heard of this mythology before seeing your film. Why did you choose to bring this aspect of Estonian folklore to the screen?

RM: The mythological story of Kratt is the story of tools breaking the neck of their master. It is very well known in Estonia, but the story has always been told as existing in a world of the past. But now is the time, when we are more surrounded by tools than before: never have we been so dependent on tools. In LA, for example, I couldn’t get to the hotel from the airport without a smartphone. To travel, I needed planes, cars and a Covid passport too. I wanted to bring that old scary story to our modern world, to play with it in the environment of the small Estonian town I live in and to understand its deeply rooted warning. And share it with the world after that 🙂

2) The two lead characters, Mia and Kevin, are absolutely addicted to their smartphones and being asked to do without them leads to their encounter with the kratt! Nora and Harri, who play the leads, are your children, right? If so, what was the experience of working with them like?

RM: We reached a new level of appreciation for each other. I was their director, they were my professional actors. We played together, but it was work. They had their first real job experience with real pay, and they took it very seriously. But it was also a lot of hugs and laughter, drinking lemonade and eating pizza in the middle of the night. It was fun! We all loved it very much!

3) You tackle quite a lot of topics in your film, from the aforementioned ‘smartphone generation’, to political corruption, to the supernatural! How challenging was it to combine all of these ideas?

RM: It was like a very personal puzzle. All the bits here are from my life, things that I have been collecting – experiences, local stories, myths and memories. It just started making sense to me and I couldn’t stop digging deeper. I just had to find all the Kratts that are lurking in my town and shed some light on them. I wanted to be honest, and not to have self-censorship or hidden agendas and when miracles started to happen, I felt we were on the right path 🙂

4) Did you have any concerns about the Estonian sense of humour carrying across for foreign audiences? I feel like I got most of the jokes, but maybe not all! 

RM: I have seen this movie with audiences a lot of times now, and what I seem to be doing is crossing out all the jokes that have been laughed at! There has never been an audience that I have witnessed that has got all of them 🙂 Some jokes are visible only with the second viewing, or more. Some jokes are so personal I laugh alone and a couple of them are meant only to a specific target, but I feel the humour is only a bi-product for me. It just happens while I’m concentrating on the details of the story and connecting all the wires for communication to occur. Comedy seems to be the lubricant for ideas too extreme to swallow and laughter is something that is needed to digest them. And it’s more fun to make a comedy 🙂

5) Grandma – played by Mari Lill – was great in the film, and I loved the physical role she played. Can you tell us about working with her? Was it fun on set?

RM: She was one of the reasons I felt I should make this film. I met her on the set once and fell in love. She was known for a role playing a little witch in an old TV show for children, but she’d never been given a leading part in a film. I wanted to tailor her a role she could shine in and when she won the Estonian Oscar for best leading woman for her performance in Kratt, the whole audience stood up. It was a magical moment that made everybody happy and the world a better place. She connected with my children like a real granny from the first day and when production went colder and bloodier, she was a real trooper. We had a lovely time together. 

6) Finally, how has the film been received? And do you have any future plans for other features?

RM: The film has been received very well! I have been getting so many lovely messages from friends and strangers all over the world, so I feel that I must have done something right 🙂 I just wrote a new script for the next project, and we are trying to get it off the ground with Tallifornia [the production company behind Kratt]. I’m very excited about it but I don’t want to say a word yet. I just like the mystery 🙂 

Many thanks to Rasmus Merivoo for the interview. You can find out more about his work here:

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: #Blue_Whale

For reference, the film features extended discussion of suicide. If you are struggling with your mental health, help is available. Please reach out to services like Samaritans (UK) or you can use Find a Helpline to find a service in your area.

A thrilling, if unbalanced entry to the Screenlife format.

Synopsis: A provincial Russian town is ravaged by a wave of inexplicable teen suicides. Dana grieves for her younger sister, a once-happy kid who suddenly withdrew and stepped in front of a train. Desperate to learn what happened, Dana explores her sister’s online history, discovering a sinister social-media game that encourages youths to take an escalating series of self-harm challenges – 50 tasks in 50 days.

Given the decidedly grim subject matter of Blue Whale it is to the film’s credit that the end product is neither overwhelmingly bleak nor completely flippant. Obviously, if you are particularly sensitive to depictions of suicide and self-harm, you will want to steer clear of this, but that isn’t all that’s on offer here and there is never a risk of it collapsing under the weight of the material. There are certainly moments here that do not shy away from how damaging such acts are.

Like the other Screenlife films of its kind, Blue Whale uses a variety of screens to tell its story, immediately allowing its characters to quickly move from behind a static desktop space with seemingly unlimited, uninterrupted streaming from mobile phones. More than just showcasing the technology and its potential to be used for both ingenious and nefarious ways, Blue Whale is concerned with the idea of hidden lives. The mixing of private and public space via technology is likely the film’s most successful pursuit as online instructions start to have a very real impact on the world around them. The film also interrogates to some degree how online manipulation can be just as potent as that experienced in person.

The first twenty minutes or so have a breathless energy as it rattles through the concept, introduces characters and sets up the early tensions. Anna Potebnya excels as Dana, a young girl desperate to uncover what has happened to her sister. Despite these well-intentioned nods to exploring what drives destructive online communities, it is where the film moves further into ‘reality’ that results in it becoming untethered. The more it departs from the need to be a Screenlife film, the less interesting it becomes and although there is enough going on that you’re unlikely to be bored, it definitely begins to stretch even the film’s internal credibility.

The film does try and pack in some internet lore with creepypasta-style ‘odd’ videos that seem to deliberately echo the presentation of previously cursed media like Ringu. That it is possible to draw on real-life cases of these internet ‘games’ resulting in genuine harm makes this obvious horror fodder but it can’t decide if it is interested in Dana’s individual story or the wider conspiracy. The result is a film that veers between the two, at some points deeply invested in the emotional chasm between Dana and her mother, then dispatching it to increase in scale.

A great hook, compelling performances that sometimes descends into the juggling too many aspects, #Blue_Whale is an interesting and largely entertaining entry to the Screenlife subgenre.

3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars

#Blue_Whale played as part of Fantasia 2021.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Martyrs Lane

A dependable ghost story enhanced by two great child actor performances.

Synopsis: Leah, 10, lives in a large vicarage, full of lost souls and the needy. In the day the house is bustling with people; at night it is dark, empty, a space for Leah’s nightmares to creep into. A small, nightly visitor brings Leah comfort, but soon she will realise that her little visitor offers knowledge that might be very, very dangerous.

Already snatched up by Shudder for release on the platform, Ruth Platt’s Martyrs Lane is a pretty typical, if capably handled English ghost story. The atmosphere calls to mind the kind of sad, yet strangely cosy Christmas offerings we often have on UK television and it would be easy to see it expand into three separate episodes with the addition of a few more scares or back story.

Much of the film rests on an engaging performance from Kiera Thompson as Leah. Despite her youth, she contributes an excellent, likeable performance as a girl who finds herself with an unexpected new friend in Rachel (an equally impressive Sienna Sayer). The pair strike up a bond, sharing a game in which they share truths and lies, but Rachel could be the key to uncovering an unhappy secret at the heart of the home. These scenes set up a great deal of atmosphere where the balance between childish conversation tips into something more sinister and back again. The control that writer-director Ruth Platt has over the tone keeps everything calm, allowing the mysteries to unfold steadily.

Away from the children’s performances, mention must be made of Denise Gough as Sarah. There is a palpable discomfort every time she is on screen, framed as a monstrous, distant figure through Leah’s eyes and a figure of fear to the adults too, for fear that a wrongly worded statement can trigger such great upset. Her anger and fragility operate alongside the other balances between innocence and darkness.

Martyrs Lane is an honest film, viewed primarily through the eyes of a child. This means there are not many surprises in how this unfolds, but that switched perspective does allow for a more whimsical, even gentle, take on the ghost story. This isn’t to play down the effectiveness of the scares, however, with quiet uncanny moments taking on an almost ethereal quality in places. This is a gradual uncovering rather than a reliance on rug-pull, abrupt twists.

Martyrs Lane is a deftly crafted ghost story with emotive performances that feels slightly too typical to have a lasting impact.

3 out of 5 stars

3 out of 5 stars

Martyrs Lane played as part of Fantasia 2021.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: You Can’t Kill Meme

A documentary that struggles to find its footing in the world of meme magick.

Synopsis: A hybrid documentary feature film about the genesis of “memetic magick” and its application by the alt-right in the United States

Last year’s Fantasia screened Feels Good, Man – a charming documentary focusing on the creator of Pepe the Frog’s attempts to regain control over his design as it made waves amongst hateful online communities. Arguably the weakest section of that documentary is its brief focus on ‘meme magick’ because it arrives (much like a section on cryptocurrency) as an unnecessary diversion from the core thread. With You Can’t Kill Meme focusing more exclusively on the concept, it would allow for greater depth, but unfortunately, there just doesn’t feel like there is enough to sustain it.

Meme does attempt to provide a central figure to empathise with in R. Kirk Packwood whose book Memetic Magic: Manipulation of the Root Social Matrix and the Fabric of Reality similarly found a home with the online ‘alt-right’, becoming a playbook for their engineering and creation of hateful imagery. However, there are arguably too many contributors here and too many balls to juggle while trying to sell a concept that feels shaky at the outset.

One of the soundbites provided relates to the lack of sincerity in the practice of making and distributing memes, stating that people have ‘banded together on the internet to legitimise idiocy’. This feels like the most potent of the film’s statements, where talent or competency no longer delivers a result, but targeted misinformation campaigns can take hold to shape. As the documentary suggests, Trump was ‘shitposted into power’. It is, at times, an insightful watch, but so often heads off in too many directions.

Sections that look into the potential physics behind the ideas do offer some food for thought, as does the political thinking behind organised movements succeeding better in their causes than more fragmented, individually-driven ones. The ideas of chaos magic never really find a footing and the documentary never makes a convincing case for it. The interviewee selection goes to some strange places, including a lightworker whose claims swiftly lose almost all credibility the longer she stays on camera. This is coupled with some curious choices for interview locations like a busy marketplace that further dulls and disconnects the conversation, making an already muddled and often esoteric outing frustrating rather than compelling.

There is a case to be made that the documentary’s scattered approach to staging interviews, selecting interviewees and switching from subject to subject deliberately echoes the fast paced meme culture it seeks to cover. The references to existing memes and their evolution is well covered initially and some of the coincidences in how they have mutated is given enough time to take on as an uninitiated viewer.

While it can’t be denied that there are elements of interest in You Can’t Kill Meme and internet meme culture is a fascinating area that demands a different kind of exploration, this results in an unconvincing and occasionally alienating journey through it.

2.5 out of 5 stars

2.5 out of 5 stars

You Can’t Kill Meme played as part of Fantasia 2021.

Fantasia 2021: Things That Go Bump In The East

Fantasia 2021 brought a host of short films, both alongside features and in blocks around a theme. The Things That Go Bump In The East block places a focus on Asian short films featuring a wide variety of subject matter.

The block’s first short Chewing Gum (Chingum) is a creepy and thrilling one, concerning a man on his way home from work, but not heading home to his wife. As he communicates with both his wife and lover via text, he is suddenly aware of something else in the train carriage with him. Shot in stark black and white, he is pursued across multiple modes of transport. The design allows for the reveal to be spread throughout the film, enhancing the suspense and tension for what might be in the darkness. Suspenseful, stylish social horror. This was followed by the much shorter animation, Carnivorous Bean Sprout and you only get one guess at what this one is about. The animation on this is excellent, as is an undercurrent of tourism, the excitement of fear and how that prompts the neglect of other creatures and concerns.

The next offering was Juan Diablo Pablo, a film about the constant cycle of human misery and how being exposed so repeatedly to the world’s ills can breed isolation. This short is all the more poignant following the suspected murder of lead performer Bobby Tamayo and the continued search for justice. The film focuses on a devil-like figure (played by Tamayo) who exists in a house surrounded by news of atrocities, photographs of fascists and other unpleasant injustices. Each day, he’s brought new bodies to harvest from and the cycle continues. The gothic feel and intricate design gives this a rich quality, even if some of the meanings don’t directly translate at times.

Huh is a departure from the tone of the previous short, but still manages to provide extra context at the end that lends it power. Huh is an energetic, animated rap about a village ritual required to protect the village from lost ghosts. The mix of old Korean folklore and animation styles alongside the more modern soundtrack is engaging and makes for a good insight into the cultural significance of the masks.

Koreatown Ghost Story continued the theme of merging modern society with older traditions. Starring Margaret Cho as a matriarchal figure who takes a cupping and acupuncture appointment with Hannah (Lyrica Okana) to an altogether darker place. The inventive use of the therapy tools as monstrous and slick pacing makes this tale of the pressure on women a successful one with plenty to get under your skin. Next, Taiwanese animated thriller Night Bus packs a lot into its 20 minute run time, meaning it sometimes feels a little overlong. Still, its dark twists sustain it for the most part as a clash of cultures, classes and hidden interests all collide on an ill-fated bus journey.

Indian animation Seen It, takes a simple idea but supports this with such warmth that it’s impossible not to smile all the way through. The film’s creative director Suresh Eriyat has recorded his father Mr. Panicker’s series of strange folklore tales, all delivered with complete sincerity and a real knack for storytelling. The rapport between father and son as the stories come to life is wonderful. The scribbled animation style brings to life his fantastical stories and the mythology is deeply engaging. Last up, Incarnation, a Japanese offering focused on an older woman dealing with a conman. There are plenty of surprises in this one that I don’t wish to spoil, but the early emphasis on dialogue sets up a tense atmosphere while also throwing in amusing observations and even some pathos. The gradual escalation shows a confidence in the material in its head for a punchline.

Things That Go Bump In The East played as part of Fantasia Film Festival 2021. For more information, see their webpage.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: The Sadness

This ultra-violent take on a zombie film brings energy but still struggles with the formula and pacing of the subgenre it sits in.

Synopsis: After a year of combating a pandemic with relatively benign symptoms, a frustrated nation finally lets its guard down. This is when the virus spontaneously mutates, giving rise to a mind-altering plague. The streets erupt into violence and depravity, as those infected are driven to enact the most cruel and ghastly things they can think of. Murder, torture, rape and mutilation are only the beginning. A young couple is pushed to the limits of sanity as they try to reunite amid the chaos. The age of civility and order is no more. There is only “The Sadness”.

It seemed that in the initial spread of COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns, some people sought out pandemic-themed media, resulting in films like Contagion experiencing a strange resurgence. As the time has worn on and with many countries still experiencing the effects, I’m not sure pandemic media is as easy a sell now. The Sadness is set in Taiwan, a country that experienced competent handling of the pandemic, so the film is not seeking to reflect the current society, but rather a warped, ‘othered’ version.

Jim (Berant Zhu) and Kat (Regina Lei) are a young couple and while they have a few issues, their relationship is a reasonably happy one. They have weathered a recent pandemic and life appears to be returning to normal. However, one day, when Kat heads to work, a strange mutation surfaces, turning normal people into ultra violent, often sexually motivated attackers. Separated and desperate to find one another, the pair struggle through the chaos.

Zombie film and television and perhaps more specifically and repeatedly, The Walking Dead has long established a formula. We meet our survivors of whatever terrible thing has befallen the world, watch them form uneasy alliances, find a safe space that ends up compromised and end up moving on, sans a few team members. It is this format that weighs heavily on The Sadness and if it is one that you are tired of, this will not sway you, turning into a succession of snapshots of depravity rather than anything more meaningful.

The Sadness enhances the lull in action presented by its format arguably because its bigger action-horror sequences are so frenetic. A sedate opening 15 minutes is ruptured by a burst of bloody violence (and impressive effects work) before calming again for a while, saving itself for the next eruption. A sequence set on a train is the film’s most striking set piece, relishing in the intensity of violence. More than that, there is a focus on smaller, unpleasant details like the amount of blood on the floor starting to squeak under passenger shoes. The pattern does end up feeling like characters are stumbling into scenes of chaos in which there are regular attempts to shock and hint at the worst acts.

The gendered experiences of the characters are interesting and splitting the characters up allows for that exploration further than if they were together. It also allows for Kat to find Molly (In-Ru Chen), another woman trying to make her way through the chaos. The type of threats may be similar but the way they manifest are different. Some of the pandemic response, including a scene of government bluster (an example of the alternate Taiwan represented in the film) works well enough, adding to the sense of chaos.

Much has been made of the need for trigger warnings and yes, this is violent and does include scenes of sexual violence too, which people should be aware of before going in. However, and this is not intended to be me being blasé about the content here as some is genuinely harrowing, it lacks a sense of transgression and was a little lacking in lasting impact. In similar ways, it doesn’t feel like it exploits the nastier elements too much, with director Rob Jabbaz knowing when to move away and leave the grisly details to audience imagination via the reactions of those witnessing it. A lengthy scene involving a doctor pontificating on the origins and outcomes of the virus overstays its welcome in its earnestness and likely represents the film’s most blatant attempt to shock, even if the background whiteboard with “we’re all fucked” scrawled on it maintains something of the earlier irreverence.

Impactful but uneven, The Sadness will please those looking for short, sharp shocks.

2.5 out of 5 stars

2.5 out of 5 stars

The Sadness played at the Fantasia Film Festival on August 21st.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: When I Consume You

An emotionally stirring and skilfully fashioned story of sibling bonds and trauma.

Synopsis: A woman and her brother seek revenge against a mysterious stalker.

The beauty of horror is in its ability to weave poignant metaphor into its scares and When We Consume You functions as an excellent example of that connection. The metaphors here are so unsubtle as to hardly be metaphor at all, but this is a film that knows what it wants to discuss and does so while also managing some stand-out genre moments.

Daphne (Libby Ewing) and Wilson (Evan Dumouchel) are sister and brother, intensely bonded by a traumatic childhood that means they no longer speak to their parents. The details of that childhood, delivered in snippets of dialogue paint a painful portrait, making the intensity of their connection understandable and touching. These are siblings forced to cling to one another in the most desperate circumstances. Despite these obstacles, the pair are still attempting to better their lives, with Daphne looking into adoption and Wilson working on his job.

As is the case with many lower budget productions, much of the success lies in the performances with Ewing and Dumouchel perfectly finding the nuance and empathy in their characters. An early scene where Daphne talks adoringly about her brother, declaring him ‘the best’ in an otherwise routine conversation is incredibly touching and it is credit to the film that it allows even the smallest of these moments space to breathe without slowing the plot. Every beat is meaningful. MacLeod Andrews adds a strong supporting performance which requires swift changes in tempo. All the performances are in step with one another, adding to the cohesion and direction of the film.

Although operating on a lower budget, the use of close-quarters choreography for scenes involving conflict is very effective and adds considerably to the impact. Director Perry Blackshear has a knack for portraying contact, whether that is in terms of violence, or gentle, even ethereal touch. These moments are supported by incredible sound design. A simple raised arm, punctuated by the soundscape becomes something beautiful and spiritual. As the film builds, so does the layering of sound, music dropped in perfectly to full effect, duelling voices and physicality all operating in a disquieting harmony. The closeness of the camera during some sections occasionally strays into uncomfortable intimacy, but the packaging is so compelling that it draws in rather than repels.

While there is much to praise in the film’s handling of human, emotive elements, it also delivers on its horror. Jump scares are not everyone’s favourite horror cliché, but when they are well-crafted and earn the jolt from the viewer it is hard to argue with them. That is definitely the case here. The horror lore it seeks to lean into is explored enough without becoming too central and exposing all its mystery.

Beautiful, affecting but with plenty of scares and horror trappings, When I Consume You is a wonderful example of how powerful horror can be, especially when it is ultimately a story of hope.

5 out of 5 stars

5 out of 5 stars

When I Consume You premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival on August 18th. A second screening takes place today (Friday 20th August) – see here for tickets.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: The Last Thing Mary Saw

This period chiller builds an atmosphere, but struggles to make an impact with attempts to startle.

Synopsis: Winter, 1843. A young woman is under investigation following the mysterious death of her family’s matriarch. Her recollection of the events sheds new light on the ageless forces behind the tragedy.

Following the now reasonably well-worn formula of a period piece, split into chapters, the format of The Last Thing Mary Saw feels familiar, although it does set out to do something different. It handles the tone well, managing to create a stifling environment and its play with chronology assists in presenting this oppressive, claustrophobic cycle within the house.

With the LGBTQ+ horror community going from strength to strength with interesting, unique and decidedly queer takes on stories maybe it is no surprise that a film about religious fervour and ‘correction’ hasn’t quite landed with me. Stefanie Scott’s performance as the titular Mary is good, as is Isabelle Fuhrman’s as her lover, Eleanor, but aside from their relationship to one another the film never allows them much development. The basis of their characters is in this doomed love story, with little else about them explored. This is perhaps understandable given the time period that the film covers is relatively short, but this still means there is a lack of connection to them, outside of natural empathy for the punishment they endure and their tragic situation.

There is a dedication to the period setting in the form of the delivery of dialogue. Unfortunately, for me this meant frequently losing some dialogue as everything feels pitched at a level just above a whisper. While that undoubtedly suits the subject matter, it does make it an occasionally frustrating watch. A caveat, of course, that this could be the result of the device I’m watching on, although some levels were absolutely fine in this, so I’m not able to say for certain.

Moments where the creepier, otherworldly imagery moves centre stage end up feeling muted, due to the film’s overwhelming sobriety. This fits the community it covers, considering their repression and fear, but the film never quite gets the injection of energy it needs in these moments. There is a slow, steady scare factor that works on smaller details, but it never feels appropriately jolting, resulting in a film that never quite moves up the gears effectively enough. As a result, this doesn’t feel like a slow-burn, but an even, deliberate unfolding of events.

The Last Thing Mary Saw will appeal to those who enjoy period horror and the quieter sense of the uncanny. The blend of horror and historical pain is so potent that I can’t help feeling I wish it had more to say.

2.5 out of 5 stars

2.5 out of 5 stars

The Last Thing Mary Saw will have its UK Premiere at FrightFest 2021 on 28th August. Tickets can be bought here

The Last Thing Mary Saw played as part of Fantasia 2021 on 15th August with a second screening on 17th August.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Hellbender

A mother-daughter bond is put to the test in this excellent, effective horror.

Synopsis: A lonely teen discovers her family’s ties to witchcraft.

Mother (Toby Poser) and her daughter Izzy (Zelda Adams) have a deep connection, strengthened by the fact that they spend almost every waking moment together. Izzy has an illness that means her mother has moved them to an isolated cabin for her safety. To pass the time, they play in a band together, crafting songs that provide a noisy outlet in their otherwise quiet lives.

Zelda Adams and Toby Poser provide the film with a security that allows for the aural and visual experimentation. Without their easy chemistry and likeability, there is a risk that some early scene-setting and later establishing pieces could run long. Poser in particular has the kind of dialogue that could so easily suffer through poor delivery, but her command of every word is just so engaging it becomes impossible to disbelieve any of it. As Izzy starts to question her life, Zelda Adams’ performance moves from her initial uncertainty of herself, moving awkwardly at times, into a far more confident, self-assured embodiment of a young woman on the edge of a profound discovery.

After an explosive opening scene, the film takes its time to build again, dropping the viewer into the pair’s world, moving at their own pace, consumed with their own interests. This feels so much like a film in which the creators are fully in control, likely due to the fact that the production is, by large, the efforts of one (incredibly talented) family. Shots within the woodland are so textured, showcasing a depth and hidden possibilities, in contrast to the stark, sleekness of the poolside hangouts with neighbour Amber (Lulu Adams). Cutaways to various curios in each section build a tactile profile of the spaces. The wooded location around their home does suggest a sense of freedom, despite their seclusion from the wider world, but seemingly invisible boundaries constrain them. At the outset, Izzy is frequently framed between trees, the trunks becoming prison-like bars that she cannot escape from.

The musical interludes work well, given time to breathe and the music is allowed to carry on through the film, again adding to the immersive power. Some sections feel a little like a conduit for featuring as much witchy imagery as possible, but every element is so well realised that the patchwork effect ends up drawing you further in, instead of pushing you away. The time afforded to rituals and their initial playfulness assists in the film’s later shift to something much darker. The theme of so many films recently appears to be a return to the earth, delving deeper into nature and Hellbender takes up the mantle to incredibly uncomfortable effect in the latter stages.

Hellbender is an impressive, often grisly take on the coming-of-age tale with a focus on the development and handling of female power.

4.5 out of 5 stars

4.5 out of 5 stars

Hellbender had its World Premiere at Fantasia 2021 with a repeat virtual screening on 16th August.

Hellbender screens with A Tale Best Forgotten which I reviewed as part of the North Bend Film Festival.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Kratt

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.

Kratt screens as part of Fantasia Festival. The film is available on demand. Ticket information is available on the webpage.