A Stayover at Grandma's Goes Haywire in 'Kratt' [Fantasia Film Festival]

Four children look up at the large sculpture made out of junk that they made
[L-R] Elise Tekko as JUULI, Nora Merivoo as MIA, Harri Merivoo as KEVIN, Roland Treima as AUGUST in KRATT

When Mia (Nora Merivoo) and Kevin (Harri Merivoo) get dropped off at their grandmother's farm in the Estonian countryside, they settle in for the most boring staycation imaginable. Even worse, Mom (Mari-Liis Lill) and Dad (Marek Tammets) left with their cellphones. But when grandma (Mari Lill) tells them about the legend of the Kratt, the siblings hatch a plan to make the situation work for them -- if only they can find an internet connection! Estonian director Rasmus Merivoo writes and directs this dark comedy that handles coming-of-age, social media rage, labor force stratification, and childlike faith. And ending my Fantasia Fest 2021 experience on a comedy felt just right.

While a knowledge of Estonian culture and history will enhance viewer enjoyment, Merivoo crafts a story with universal appeal -- if you can handle some blood and guts. Imagine the energy of Pippi Longstocking with the grossology of Gremlins. Merivoo created the story to be family-friendly (his own children play the two leads), but parents may want to check content warnings before following that prompt. The myth of the Kratt is a well-established Estonian legend. Build a Kratt out of found household objects to construct a body, add three drops of blood, summon the Devil, and a Kratt can be yours! The Kratt does all the chores and never gets tired -- a benefit and a liability in one.

A crowd gathers with torches
Paul Purga as LEMBIT leads an angry crowd of townspeople in KRATT

Perhaps the plot tries to handle much in its 1 hour 47 minute run-time. But after watching multiple Fantasia pictures with heavy themes, this madcap kids' adventure felt like a soothing balm. The siblings' quest to find internet access and build a Kratt -- aided by twins Juuli (Elise Tekko) and August (Roland Treima) -- serves as the main narrative. But the plot also covers a media war between the townsfolk and the local government over the fate of a sacred burial ground, the whereabouts of Mom and Dad, a shadowy presence tracking the kids' Google searches, and the local governor's attempt to salvage his public reputation.

In this case, the performances kept me invested. The kids possess pluck and sincerity, which are the holy grails of kid actors. The emotive responses from the kids ring true. While the twins, wearing their matching striped shirts, stay in the deadpan lane, the two leads manage to navigate all of the emotions they need to muster. From dismissive to enthusiastic, from shocked to frightened, they give it their all. Likewise, the adults roll up their sleeves and throw themselves into fun, as well. Mari Lill as Grandma definitely has the most physical performance to endure, and runs the gauntlet from tough-as-nails to nurturing to becoming a single-minded efficiency machine. But the Parish Pastor (Jan Uuspold) also deserves kudos as the heroic man of faith who must exorcise the demon out of the Kratt and save the day.

And old woman with a scythe in her head demands work
Mari Lill as GRANDMA in KRATT

Kratt crosses the sensibilities of a 1980s coming-of-age drama with the social consciousness of today. Many of the themes explored -- social media anxiety and the impact of progress on natural resources -- are par for the course. At the same time, Merivoo imbues the story with whimsy and wonder often missing from contemporary films. It's rare for a movie starring kids to strike the right note between childlike and frightening. From the assembling of the Kratt to grandma's frightening transformation, the visuals seem ripped from a child's book of nightmares.

In the legend of the Kratt, once the master who summoned the Kratt got tired of his presence, the solution was to command it to do something impossible, like build a ladder out of bread. Trying to glean coherent lessons out of this movie is like building a ladder out of bread. The multiple plot points leave many unanswered questions. Viewers who don't enjoy loose ends or unexplained appearances will chaff at some of the choices Merivoo makes. Choose to watch Kratt when you want an outrageous film that doesn't take itself too seriously. It's a "be careful what you wish for" story that pushes that idea to its extreme.

Release info: On demand during Fantasia Film Festival

Final score: 3.5 out of 5