In Estonian mythology, a Kratt is a creature made out of hay and old household implements and brought to life with a soul purchased from the devil. Once animated it was bound to do whatever tasks it was given. The problem was if it ran out of things to do it became bored and murderous. I first encountered a Kratt in Rainer Sarnet’s Estonian folk horror film November. Now his countryman Rasmus Merivoo (Buratino , Son of Pinocchio) has written and directed a much less serious take on these creatures, simply entitled Kratt.
Mia (Nora Merivoo) and Kevin (Harri Merivoo) have been dropped off with Grandma (Mari Lill) while their parents attend a retreat. Given chores and denied internet access the kids are not happy. They eventually wind up at the library in the company of local twins Juuli (Elise Tekko) and August (Roland Teima) where they find a book with instructions for building a Kratt. Seeing the possibility of an end to chores they ignore the ominous Pentagram on the book’s cover.
Kratt wants to be many things. A fish out of water comedy as we watch Mia and Kevin deal with country life. It’s also an indictment of politicians in the form of the local Governor (Ivo Uukkivi) who’s trying to play to both a local developer and those who want to preserve the sacred grove he wants to cut down.
But most of all it wants to be a satire on technology, especially the internet and social media. The idea being that Facebook, Twitter, etc. are the modern-day equivalent of a Kratt gotten out of control. An artificial servant that’s turned on its master.
I’m sure I would have found Kratt a lot more amusing if I was Estonian, or at least Eastern European. There seemed to be several references that were aimed at a local audience and went right past me. Or maybe the point got lost in translation, a recurring problem with imported comedy.
Merivoo also undercuts himself badly with his central point. The kids build their Kratt, and it is equal parts funny looking and scary. But before it can be animated Grandma finds it and ends up becoming Kratt instead. So rather than a creature somewhere between a robot and a Golem, we get a zombie instead. And, not only does it short circuit what he was trying to say, it ruined my hopes for a rural version of Psycho Goreman.
Kratt does have its moments, such as a creative look at what happens when you ask Siri or Bixby a question and a priest using drones to keep track of his parishioners.. And on another level we have Grandma walking around trying to get a sickle-blade out of her skull. But in the end, more jokes were missed than hit. I was left feeling more amused by the fact I’d watched an anti-internet film streaming over said internet and would be mentioning its anti-social media message on social media than by the film itself.
In the end, we’re left with a film about Kratts that lacks a Kratt and a satire that lacks any real bite. I was hoping the last act of exorcism would but even that turned into a ridiculous mess involving a black helicopter and NATO troops, then caps it off with an on-the-nose final shot. I didn’t get many laughs, but I think I did get a bad case of Kratt scratch fever.
Kratt makes its North American debut as part of this year’s Fantasia Film Festival. It’s screening on demand, you can check the film’s page on the festival’s website for more information and to buy tickets. You can also find out more about the film on the production company’s Facebook page.