Straddling pointed satire, ethereal fable, and goopy body horror, Hanna Bergholm’s debut feature Hatching is the latest addition to a lineage of child’s-eye fantastique that doubles as an inquiry into the cruelties, psychological pressures, and primordial fears of adolescence.
Developed from a one-sentence idea, Ilja Rautsi’s script doesn’t always navigate nor flesh out the themes of its tonally mutating narrative with elegant consistency. But the film remains a delectably icky, purposefully discomforting good time, nimbly directed by Bergholm and featuring a beautifully wretched-looking monster and a genuinely daring performance from Siiri Solalinna.
Tinja (Solalinna) is a twelve-year-old Finnish gymnast who lives with her family in a suburban, upper-class chandeliered haven that seemingly suggests a portrait of blissed-out domesticity. But as these lily-white, strangely spotless, manicured surfaces have historically proven, an uglier, scarier version of their world is gnawing away underneath.
Her parents are woeful in their neglect. Mother (Sophia Heikkilä) is a domineering vlogger who’s obsessed with curating the perfect image of her family while aggressively foisting her unrealised ambitions onto Tinja. Father (Jani Volanen) is revealed to be a spineless pushover more interested in dabbling in his electric guitar than fostering any meaningful relationship with her. Brother Matias (Oiva Ollila), no help either, is a dweeby nuisance she has nothing in common with.
Any semblance of normalcy is upended in the opening scene when a crow flies into their living room, shattering glassware and throwing their idyllic existence into chaos. Tinja catches the crow, only to have mother casually snap its neck. “Please take it to the trash, dear”, she orders, with a creepy grin, then specifying, “Organic waste.” In a surreal turn, Tinja later encounters the crow again in a forest, and discovers an egg which she takes home to nurse.
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It’s here that Hatching hits its stride, shifting into a full-blown nightmare piece that plays like the missing link between E.T., Cronenberg’s The Fly and Turning Red. The egg grows abnormally large, and eventually cracks open a slimy avian monstrosity.
Conceived by animatronics designer Gustav Hoegen (Star Wars) and makeup effects artist Conor O’Sullivan (The Dark Knight) as a three-dimensional puppet with minimal CGI enhancement, the creature, which Tinja names Alli, is one of the year’s most startling sights: a squelchy, ungainly, malformed mess of skin, feather and bone that inspires pity and awe (from certain angles it’s kinda cute too).
Bergholm shoots Alli with bracing economy and consideration—we see just enough to feel its tactile, weirdly human presence, and not so much that it loses its otherworldly power. And Solalinna is never less than convincing when framed alongside Alli, botting her raging emotional baggage into a psychic bond that processes the punishing competitiveness of her gym training, the demanding weight of mother’s expectations, and the loneliness of school life in deadly, grotesque ways.
As the film moves into its shakier final act, there’s a slightly nagging sense of unrealised potential and arbitrary plotting, but until then, Hatching generally engages with its stirring, fairy-tale-like qualities and sharply administered primal shocks.