Hanna Bergholm’s feature debut Hatching is a satisfying creature-feature delight. A coming-of-age, body horror nightmare with a sharp sense of social critique and a nose for the adolescent challenges of complicated mother-daughter relationships, the 86-minute movie critiques the contemporary obsession with self-centered personal branding and the pursuit of clicks, likes and followers. Better yet, the Finnish filmmaker commits to the old-fashioned practical effects of 1980s classics like Gremlins, Re-Animator, The Fly and Society, channeling their great monsters as well as their satirical commentary.
Preteen Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) and her little brother Matias (Oiva Ollila) mirror their parents (Sophia Heikkilä and Jani Volanen) in both attire and carefully-groomed behavior. The affluent family members live together in a house that resembles the set of a color-coordinated pastel magazine shoot more than it feels like a home. Mother’s desire for perfection extends to her avocation: the production of “Lovely Everyday Life,” a video blog/web series capturing and curating seemingly every activity of the nuclear unit for online consumption. The idyllic facade, instantly recognizable in Hatching as forced and phony, is shattered when a large crow smashes through a window, raining down havoc along with an expensive chandelier.
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That ill omen is the telltale harbinger of change. Tinja, who recoils at her mom’s treatment of the avian intruder, ends up rescuing and hiding an unhatched egg in her bedroom. Soon, the girl’s secret has grown to enormous size. Once the inhabitant of the shell emerges in Hatching, Bergholm develops an archetypal doppelganger exercise, using Tinja’s impossibly weird correspondent — equally grotesque and pitiable — to work out a psychological examination of womanhood. To say any more would certainly spoil some of the fun, much of which is derived from the brilliant work of animatronic specialist Gustav Hoegen and the makeup designs of past Oscar nominee Conor O’Sullivan.
No kid wants to let down a parent, and Tinja’s personal ordeal in Hatching is magnified by her participation in competitive gymnastics, an ideal vehicle to embody the liminal state between girl and woman. Screenwriter Ilja Rautsi uses the confusion of puberty to build an increasingly tense psychological cage for the young protagonist, illustrated by her discovery of self and her danger to others. All the parts of the puzzle fit together without sacrificing a sense of mystery and wonder which occasionally recalls, albeit less operatically and without the labyrinthine extra-dimensional arcana, Twin Peaks and its tragic heroine Laura Palmer. Both stories effectively communicate the Janus-faced demands of keeping up appearances when darker and more disturbing things are hidden just out of sight.
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Bergholm commits to lots of daylight and sunshine, another key choice that differentiates Hatching from so many horror contemporaries. The daytime scenes can be deeply unsettling, and the director stages a particularly effective sequence at the house being restored by the extramarital lover of Tinja’s mother, a carpenter/handyman played by well-known Finnish actor/musician Reino Nordin and coded with all the masculinity (and a wink) that accompanies the stereotype. A few dissenting voices have argued that the central metaphor of Hatching plays out with a heavy-handed obviousness, but for my money, Bergholm’s commitment to — in her own words — “powerful stories about female emotions” — yields handsome dividends.
Hatching’s limited theatrical release starts on April 29. IFC Midnight has set May 17 as the on-demand date.
Greg Carlson (@gcarlson1972) is a professor of communication studies and the director of the interdisciplinary film studies minor program at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. He is also the film editor of the High Plains Reader, where his writing has appeared since 1997.