Bold, clever and memorable, this Finnish horror film about a tween incubating a giant egg is a crackingly thrilling watch.
May 26, 2022
If you had only ever watched five horror movies in your life, odds are that one would've covered being careful what you wish for, and another would've focused on not messing with nature. It's equally likely that growing up being hell, motherhood being even more nightmarish and grappling with the terrors of the human body would've popped up as well. These all rank among the genre's favourite concepts, alongside haunted houses, murderous forces, demonic influences and the undead — and, making her feature filmmaking debut with the savvily sinister-meets-satirical blend that is Hatching, Finnish writer/director Hanna Bergholm knows this. She's also innately aware that something unique, distinctive and unnerving can still spring from stitching together well-used notions and now-familiar parts, which, on- and off-screen, is her bold and memorable body-horror, twisted fairy tale and dark coming-of-age thriller in an eggshell.
Hatching begins by unpacking a fallacy as fractured as Humpty Dumpty after the nursery-rhyme character's fall — and that still keeps being lapped up anyway. In suburban Finland, among homes so identical that the song 'Little Boxes' instantly pops into your head, 12-year-old gymnast Tinja (debutant Siiri Solalinna), her younger brother Matias (fellow first-timer Oiva Ollila), and their mother (Sophia Heikkilä, Dual) and father Jani Volanen, Dogs Don't Wear Pants) are living their best lives. More than that, as the soft lensing and music that helps open the movie establishes, they're also beaming that picture of pink, white and pastel-hued domestic perfection to the world. Tinja's unnamed mum is a vlogger, and these scenes are being captured for her cloyingly named blog Lovely Everyday Life. Naturally, showing that this family of four's daily existence is anything but enchanting is one of Bergholm's first aims.
The initial crack comes from outside, crashing through the window to ruin a posed shot alight with fake smiles and, of course, being filmed with a selfie stick. Soon, broken glass, vases and lamps are strewn throughout a lounge room so immaculately arranged that it looks straight out of a supermarket-shelf home-and-garden magazine — and the crowning glory, the chandelier, has descended from a luminous pièce de résistance to a shattered mess. A garden-variety crow is the culprit, which Tinja carefully captures. She hands it to her mother, thinking that they'll then release it outside. But her mum, placid but seething that anything could disrupt her manufactured picture of bliss, ignores that idea with a cruel snap and instructions to dispose of the animal in the organic waste.
Watching the source of her own life snuff out a bird's because it temporarily disturbed the faux, performative idyll is understandably a formative moment for Tinja, and one of several early splinters. The girl is clearly nowhere near as enthused about gymnastics as her mum is about having a star gymnast for a daughter, even before Tinja is forced to train until her palms are torn and bloody. She's also unsettled when she sees her mother kissing handyman Tero (Reino Nordin, Deadwind), then justifies having a "special friend" because he satisfies her in ways Tinja's dutiful dad doesn't. So when Tinja finds the crow's egg in a nest outside, she's quick to take it into her care — both because of and despite her mum. She nurtures it tenderly, placing it inside a teddy bear for safe keeping. She gains her own little universe to dote over. Then the egg keeps growing, and a human-sized chick emerges.
Hatching is economical, running for a mere 86 minutes. It also unfurls that above setup in its first third. From there, screenwriter Ilja Rautsi (Spandex Sapiens) — working with a story co-credited to Bergholm — spins a narrative that's part creature feature, too, but wholly steeped in Tinja's experiences encroaching womanhood and tackling her own form of motherhood under the wing of someone who always puts appearances first. The grin-and-bear-it attitude that's imparted to adolescent girls to deal with bullying; the pressure to be perfect physically, emotionally and mentally, no matter the cost; the stigma around body image; the force exerted by caregivers and society alike around bodily agency; the urges and desires that comes with bubbling hormones: they're all weaved into Hatching's smart script. So too is the reality that, for girls, farewelling childhood doesn't just mean menstruation and other physical changes, but the potential to get pregnant, become a mother and have your existence forever tied to your offspring.
If Rosemary's Baby springs to mind in Hatching's repeated lullaby-like refrain, plus the Alien franchise in its visceral depiction of twisted maternity, that's understandable. If there's a touch of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial to the relationship between Tinja and the creature, but filtered through Black Swan and Us, that is as well. 2021's similar blend of folklore and parenthood, Lamb, also flaps gently — and the mother of all tales about sparking life, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, too. One visual touch nods so overtly to David Lynch's Twin Peaks that you expect someone to mention damn fine coffee, while Blue Velvet's peeling back of suburban facades weighs heavily. The body-horror work of that other iconic filmmaking David, The Brood, Scanners and The Fly's Cronenberg, also flutters underneath as a clear influence. But Bergholm has incubated a rare movie that both makes its sources of inspiration blatant and feels like its own beast sprung from their combined DNA.
One of the film's most striking moves hails from its twinning not just of Tinja and her surrogate offspring (via a supremely disturbing animatronic puppet to begin with, and evolving from there), but of two ways of soaring through the world. When cinematographer Jarkko T Laine (Finnish TV's Cargo) isn't lensing Päivi Kettunen's (Hotel Swan Helsinki) exacting production design, which weaponises floral wallpaper to a chilling degree, like an influencer's Instagram story — or peering into shadowy wardrobes and under beds — he's connecting the visual dots between flying birds and gymnastic acrobatics. For Tinja, though, the latter hasn't ever meant freedom. As so astonishing portrayed by Solalinna in a complicated part, and against such an entertainingly monstrous turn by Heikkilä, she's always felt trapped and henpecked in the nest. Hatching splits open that coop, its artifice and all the lies that reside within it — and, while happily obvious at times, makes for a crackingly clever, grotesque and canny watch.