One of the more surprising horror movies to come out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival was a small Finnish feature called “Hatching”. Hanna Bergholm’s directorial debut plays like a coming-of-age fairy tale – one that explores a number of potent underlying themes but with a nasty edge. It’s a movie that blends several aspects from the horror genre, but does so in a strikingly inventive way that gives it an unnerving identity all its own.
The story revolves around 12-year-old Tinja (wonderfully played by newcomer Siiri Solalinna), a young gymnast who hatches a vicious bird-like creature from an egg she secretly nests in her bedroom. It may sound a little kooky, but once you get ahold of the metaphors at the center of screenwriter Ilja Rautsi’s story, it’s hard not to be drawn in by the movie’s smarts and ambition.
Tinja is part of a seemingly happy suburban family of four. Her father (Jani Volanen) is a weirdly detached man with a big smile but little in terms of agency. There’s also her petulant kid brother, Matias (Oiva Ollila) who’s a bit of a pest. But the hands-down ruler of the house is her mother (Sophia Heikkilä), a former figure skater who now runs a popular lifestyle blog called “Lovely Everyday Life” (keep that title in mind). She’s all about painting an image of an ideal family for her followers to covet.
It doesn’t take long to see through the family’s sun-soaked facade. Tinja’s mother treats her father like a fixture for her blog rather than a husband (she’s nonchalantly having an affair with a handyman named Tero played by Reino Nordin). And her father seems content to play his part. The attention-hungry Matias gets loved on while his mother is filming, but is an afterthought whenever the camera is off. That leaves Tinja who faces the brunt of her passive-aggressive mother’s overbearing win-at-all-costs mentality. Tinja’s mom is determined that her daughter be a superstar gymnast regardless of the misery it causes. It all makes for a home-life that’s a far cry from how it’s portrayed.
One afternoon the family is surprised when a crow unexpected flies into their house. After making a royal mess, Tinja is able to catch the bird in a blanket. But rather than letting it go, her mother snaps it’s neck and tells Tinja to dispose of it. Later that night, Tinja (still shocked by her mother’s callousness), hears the crow screeching. She follows its screams into a nearby forest where she discovers an egg. Rather than leaving it, Tinja brings it back home, tucking it cozily under her teddy bear pillow.
The egg begins to grow at an enormous rate and soon its as big as Tinja. When it inevitably hatches, out comes something hideous and terrifying – a bird-like creature with a mysterious psychological connection to Tinja. Effects-wise, the creature begins as an incredibly detailed animatronic puppet created by Gustav Hoegen. But over time, as it begins taking a near human form, the creature is played by actresses in makeup by two-time Oscar nominee Conor O’Sullivan.
As the story progresses the tone gets noticeably darker. And as the creature changes it grows more menacing. The psychological chills give way to body horror as the creature takes on new forms. Meanwhile the film’s razor-sharp metaphor really comes into focus as the movie reaches its climax. The creature’s presence is a source of some good frights, but it’s Tinja’s mother who is the story’s true villain. Her actions are as vile as anything we see from the hatchling, and Bergholm uses both monsters to drill home some potent points about domineering mothers, adolescent anxieties, and child abuse in its many forms.
“Hatching” requires a bit of patience and you’ll need to be willing to just go with some things that the movie doesn’t detail. But the payoff is worth it, and the message at the story’s center is strikingly relevant today. I also love the genre nods we get, both narratively and creatively. It all testifies to the skills of Bergholm who turns in a remarkable first feature, marked with boldness and originality. I can’t wait to see what she does next. “Hatching” is streaming now on VOD.
That sounds so-o-o weird!
Weird actually fits it well. But the good kind of weird! 🙂
Keith I read all but the last 2 paragraphs of your review. What a tantalizing plot. One I must see. On another Nordic film, I watched “Border” (2018) last week and it has elements of this plot in it and is most excellent. If you get a chance, check it out!
Border? Absolutely. I haven’t seen that one. Was it on a particular streaming platform?
This looks and sounds like one of the weirder movies of the year.
Definitely. But once you get in with the themes it’s exploring, it’s pretty great.
Thanks! I would have never watched this but will give it a go.
Awesome. Let me know what you think.