Director: Hanna Bergholm
Cast: Siiri Solalinna, Sophia Heikkilä, Jani Volanen, Reino Nordin, Saija Lentonen
Runtime: 1 hr 31 mins
Released By: Golden Village
Opening Day: 12 May 2022
Synopsis: 12-year-old gymnast, Tinja (Siiri Solalinna), is desperate to please her image-obsessed mother, whose popular blog ‘Lovely Everyday Life’ presents their family’s idyllic existence as manicured suburban perfection. One day, after finding a wounded bird in the woods, Tinja brings its strange egg home, nestles it in her bed, and nurtures it until it hatches. The creature that emerges becomes her closest friend and a living nightmare, plunging Tinja beneath the impeccable veneer into a twisted reality that her mother refuses to see.
Amidst a season of sequels and superheroes, it is truly rare to find a film as original as ‘Hatching’. That alone is reason to catch this Finnish body horror in cinemas, in addition to the critical acclaim it has garnered since premiering at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
Like most memorable horrors, this one contains meanings that reverberate beyond its story, but director Hanna Bergholm never lets its message come at the expense of a good old story.
As this one goes, ‘Hatching’ begins with a brilliant sequence that starts off with what appears to be a perfect family of four and ends off leaving no doubt that it is all but a façade. In particular, the disquiet lies with the unforgiving mother (Sophia Heikkilä), who when handed the crow that unwittingly disrupts her filming of their Instagram-ready existence for her ‘Lovely Everyday Life’ blog, snaps its head without so much as batting an eyelid.
Said mother has ideas of her 12-year-old daughter Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) as a world-class gymnast, but Tinja falls slightly short; to make matters worse, she faces stiff competition from her neighbour Reetta (Ida Määttänen), and let’s just say it won’t end prettily for Reetta or the latter’s French bulldog. Besides her mother’s domineering ways, Tinja is also disturbed by the affair her mother is having with the family handyman Tero (Reino Nordin), which she realises later that her father (Jani Volanen) is aware of but has chosen to accept tacitly.
Tinja’s fragile existence is upended when she finds an egg in the nearby woods, brings it home to nest it inside her giant teddy bear, and then watches it hatch to reveal a winged, screeching, skin-and-bones creature with pleading eyes, spindly legs and a ferociously-toothed beak. Instead of getting rid of it, Tinja consciously nurtures it, feeding it in secret and coaxing it as it grows into a physical manifestation of Tinja herself that she nicknames Alli (after a creepy Finnish cradle song).
It isn’t hard to guess that Alli becomes Tinja’s expression of her darkest impulses, fears and even grudges, but screenwriter Ilja Rautsi layers complication after complication for Tjina and Alli to navigate. The extent of their psychic connection is revealed in a grisly encounter that shows how vicious a person’s id can get if left unchecked. A subsequent episode demonstrates the tension between a person’s id and superego, not least when the former acts out of sheer jealousy. And then there is the climax itself, which unfolds as an inevitable showdown between a person and her doppelganger for which only one will ultimately survive.
At a lean 90 minutes, the pace is taut and tight, with perfectly executed moments of terror anchored by a strong emotional core, thanks to a well-defined dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship. Those who love allegories will find in here themes of motherhood, perfectionism, puberty and suppression, each of which will resonate at different points of the movie; and perhaps most compellingly, it is the potentially destructive impact of unrealistic parental expectation which will stay with you long after the credits roll, which the brilliant final shot reinforces is at the heart of Alli’s evolution.
There is much to savour in this often surprisingly and delightfully original creature horror, which like we said, comes as a breath of fresh air amidst a busy summer season of comfort blockbusters. In addition to their inspiration, Bergholm and Rautsi also deserve credit for spotting newcomer Solalinna from a nationwide audition of over 1,200 girls, who proves absolutely sensational in the dual roles of Tinja and Alli. Together with the subtly terrifying Heikkilä, the mother-daughter relationship is absolutely captivating to watch, and amidst the grotesqueness, ensures this fable is equal parts fascinating and sobering.
(Gripping from start to finish, this unique Finnish horror is both a richly satisfying thriller and thought-provoking fable)
Review by Gabriel Chong