21st Century Kids Meddle With Ancient Evil In Estonian Dark Comedy 'Kratt'

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Twenty-first century children are becoming more tech-savvy at a younger age than at any point in history. Yet the constant exposure to smartphones, tablets, social media and online video game platforms can and does have detrimental effects on childhood development. Eye strain, obesity, reduced sleep quality, increased feelings of inadequacy and anxiety, depression, cyberbullying, poor face-to-face social skills and an over-reliance on search bars and web browsers to glean information have all been cited as negative factors of the digital age in pediatric studies.

It's that last tendency that serves as the storytelling springboard in Red Water Entertainment/Talifornia's release of the Estonian import, Kratt. A prologue set in 1895 introduces the audience to a demonic tome that dooms an occult adept before springing ahead to the new millennium, where two siblings--feisty, headstrong Mia and laid-back Kevin (real-life sister and brother Nora and Harri Merivoo, respectively), are unceremoniously dumped at their grandmother's isolated rural abode by their vacation-starved hippie parents. Bereft of WiFi and despondent without their phones, Mia and Kevin are bewildered by the rigors of farm life, but quirky, tough and self-sufficient Grandma Helmut (Mari Lill) attempts to break through the generation gap by telling them of the titular mythological creature, a man-made being empowered by Beelzebub and fueled by both human blood and an insatiable desire for work--and her own failed youthful attempts to build one using the aforementioned satanic text. Bored witless and seduced by an opportunity to avoid their daily labor, Mia and Kevin can't believe their good fortune when they discover the sinister book down at the local library and try their own hand at making a kratt come to life...

If the main narrative thread sounds simple enough, it is, but that's far from the only plot on the loose in Kratt. A secondary storyline involving the town's beleaguered governor (Ivo Uukkivi) as he jousts with a group of Facebook environmentalists intent on saving a 'sacred forest' from loggers parallels and at times intersects in hilarious and unexpectedly violent ways once Mia and Kevin's experiment in kratt creation backfires. Having unknowingly stolen the governor's donated plasma from the blood bank to secure their deal with The Devil (the impish Alo Kurvits), the children can only helplessly watch as the kratt takes possession of their grandmother's body, transforming her into a mindless automaton hungry for ever-increasing chores.

At its thematic heart, Kratt is less a horror movie rather than a sly black comedy skewering our obsession (and dependence) on technology. The overall portrayal of modern humanity's relationship with its gadgetry presented by writer-director Rasmus Merivoo (father of Nora and Harri) is dim, grim, pessimistic and subversively outrageous, emphasizing the notion that we as a species are collectively dumber while our devices become smarter. But there's more to this than mere jabs at society: the urge for the environmentalists to preserve the sacred forest represents a much deeper assertion on the filmmakers' part--that it's our assembled ancestral heritage, our very past, that's at stake of disappearing in this brave new world of information overload. Our ancient forbearers who created civilization, slowly, through thousands of years of trial-and-error, may have been primitives by our current standards, but a connection existed to the nature they were taming that lent them a vital identity in danger now of obliteration (even the exorcist sought by Mia and Kevin eschews time-honored rites in favor of VR-controlled drones and crucifixion GIFs on his phone in his battle with the forces of darkness). Learning, culture, business, art, sex, interpersonal human connectivity--even the science that technology inherently accelerates has been irrevocably altered by the rise of the internet, and Kratt asks simply: is that a good thing? The question isn't merely some grumpy Luddite’s grumbling, either. The price we may one day pay for indulging our love affair with iPads and Tik Tok and Pornhub would be steep. Are we prepared to pay it? And if so, at whose ultimate cost?

Those heavier ruminations aside, there's surprisingly little substance in Kratt as a piece of entertainment. The storylines multiply as a rabbit's rate, dividing into myriad paths more confounding and confusing than complex. Attempts at individual characterization are lost amid the overstuffed jumble to the point where the entire movie feels like a surreal comedy sketch drawn out to feature length. And does the ending make any coherent sense? In an (Estonian) word: ei (that's no in case you need Google Translate).

Well-intended though it may be, the razor-sharp wit in Kratt is dulled its own excess, and while that sensation of over-stimulation may be exactly what creator Merivoo was aiming for, it leads to an altogether unsatisfactory viewing experience.

I give Kratt a slightly underwhelming 2.5 (out of 5) on my Fang Scale.

2.5 / 5.0