Body horror, satire and coming of age themes aren’t usually ingredients mixed together in cinema, let alone mentioned in the same sentence. However, HATCHING, the new creature-feature from Finnish director Hanna Bergholm, does just that - and a lot, lot more.
Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) is a young member of a seemingly picture perfect family. She lives with her domineering influencer mother, (Sophia Heikkilä), passive father (Jani Volanen) and little brother (Oiva Ollila). Tinja and the rest of her family are accessories to her mother’s social media blog, where she films and shares their daily routine to an online audience - including Tinja’s gymnastics training. Tinja says very little, but is obviously unhappy and tries desperately to please her. To make matters worse, her mother is also having an affair.
With pressure on Tinja to keep up her mother’s illusion, she finds an egg in the forest and hides it in her room. Over time, the egg grows larger and larger, and what hatches from it is a monstrous and grotesque creature. Tinja bonds with the hatchling, naming it Alli. Having a physical connection with the creature, she is able to express the parts of herself that have been suppressed by her mother, as it evolves into something no one could have imagined.
The film’s opening scene perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the film. The family, all dressed in pristine white, smile for the camera amongst the pastel pink and floral aesthetic of their house. A crow suddenly flies inside and smashes everything in its path. While Tinja tends to the injured bird afterward, her mother kindly asks to take it and calmly snaps its neck. It might not be subtle, but this is the kind of contrast that reverberates throughout HATCHING. Behind the facade the mother puts up - a perfect marriage, athletically gifted daughter, beautiful house - is a sad and broken home. Amongst the blonde hair, makeup, painted walls and polished online presence is the dread, ick and violent presence of Alli. The juxtaposition is undeniably effective, and also makes for some stunning imagery and unique commentary on social media lifestyle.
While Bergholm’s film travels down many avenues, it is at its core a horror film. There is a constant sense of dread after the key opening scene, and an unsettling atmosphere washes over each frame. A Finnish lullaby with a simple yet creepy melody recurs throughout the film. There are some genuinely great scares and heart-pounding buildups of tension. However, what remains most horrific is the creature that is hatched. The abomination is an eerily lifelike presence and incredible display of VFX and character design. It’s of a standard that could easily appear in a Star Wars film, which makes all the more sense upon discovering that animatronics supervisor Gustav Hoegen has worked with Lucasfilm, and brought his talents to this smaller-scale film. The creature is unnatural on all fronts, even more so as it evolves and becomes more revolting, making for some stomach-churning yet impressive body horror. There’s plenty of goo, blood and dismembered body parts for your liking.
Even though the film is understandably far-fetched, sometimes Bergholm pushes the limit on what the audience will buy. That’s not necessarily in relation to the fantasy elements, but rather human characters and decisions. We know Tanja’s mother has more than a few screws loose, but it’s hard to believe that she would take her daughter to meet the man she’s having an affair with, or be more worried about a torn costume than her daughter literally just having had a seizure. These moments will have you scratching your head, but they aren’t detrimental to the overall story.
HATCHING is a lot of things - a coming of age tale of a girl finding her voice through her new monstrous pet, a commentary on social media and the damage caused by a lack of parental love, and an all out gore-fest. Sometimes it’s not sure what it wants to be, and audiences might not know what to take away from it. But the ride itself is an engrossing experience, and cements Bergholm as a fresh and exciting voice in horror with a lot to offer.
The Hatching is in selected cinemas from May 26. 2022.