Fantasia 2021: Kratt Transforms an Estonian Myth Into a Sweet Fairy Tale
Cass Clarke
Written and directed by Rasmus Merivoo, Kratt is at once a deadpan horror-comedy and a modern fairytale. Using the Estonian myth of a Kratt -- a golem-like creation who can do someone's bidding and work for them -- the film aims its plot and satire at Facebook culture, inept governmental figures, internet-addicted youth and poverty in Eastern Europe.
That might sound like the film is juggling a lot, and that's because it is. Kratt confidently leans into its Monty Python-like approach, giving ample time to each societal group it's commenting on within the larger story. At points, the satire overwhelms and slows down the film's pacing. That being said, Kratt successfully anchors its tale on two spoiled and stubborn kids, Mia (Nora Merivoo) and Kevin (Harri Merivoo), who are sent to live with their sassy Grandma (Mari Lill) over the summer, which makes the story's progression of events easy to follow.
The main plot revolves around Mia and Kevin attempting to live a whole three months without internet and in the countryside with Grandma. As the children's parents are away on a kind of detox retreat, Mia and Kevin realize there's a thing in life called chores. Perhaps the most charming aspect of this setup is Mari Lill's pitch-perfect timing of side-eye and just the right amount of scorn mixed with bemusement. Watching Mia and Kevin adjust to country living takes up about a third of the film and it's really where Merivoo's script shines. It's not hard for audiences to empathize with Grandma still working her farm -- despite being in her elder years -- as she explains to her grandchildren what little means she has to survive.
Of course, Mia misunderstands Grandma's explanation about how work works. Thinking she can make it all better, Mia finds a demonic book that instructs her, and the neighborhood friends that she and Kevin meet, to create a Kratt. But Kratts need a soul to survive, which leads the kids to accidentally sacrifice someone close to them. If this was all the film was, it would be more than enough to satisfy audiences as it channels the charm and wonder of action-adventure kid-focused comedies of the 80s like The Goonies.
But Merivoo opts to take the film in a different direction. While it still has its roots set in Mia and Kevin's misadventures, it also spirals into deeper socioeconomic questions. It offers glimpses into corporate interests moving into the countryside and the town's angry view of it. Ivo Uukkivi portrays the Governor, who ratchets up the film's satirical nature and feels like he stepped off the set of The Life of Brian. While the Governor does eventually get tied up in Mia and Kevin's plans, it's fair to say that audiences watching him attempting to appease Facebook-loving activists around zoning issues might rightfully wonder how this subplot plays into the story at large. While the overt political subplots never feel out of place, they do tend to feel like they're begging for more room to unfold. The town is eccentric and storied enough that these larger themes and issues might have served a miniseries format better.
However, it's worth noting how incredibly entertaining and ambitious this all is. It makes perfect sense why Merivoo would want to create a moralistic fairy tale around work while also acknowledging how work affects people differently, especially in the most poverty-stricken areas of Eastern Europe. In that way, it is wholly unique for wanting to tell a fairy tale specifically of its time and bringing in all the complications that are at play in the real world currently. Similarly, these problems aren't as easy to solve and perhaps it's fair to say that that too lies in the heart of Kratt's message. It doesn't take the easy way out -- structure-wise, pacing-wise -- and that's kind of the point. At the very least, it'll reward repeat viewings.