Director: Hanna Bergholm
Stars: Sophia Heikkilä, Siiri Solalinna, Jani Volanen
Traditionally, a bird flying inside a house is a bad omen. A harbinger of death. Hatching begins with just such an intrusion. Perhaps this is known by the unnamed matriarch and 40-something influencer (Sophia Heikkilä) who commands the household. When her 12-year-old daughter Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) brings her said bird, she mercilessly snaps its neck; a decision which may prove catalyst for a more sinister brand of chaos soon to be unleashed.
While the mother keeps a pristine suburban house resplendent with floral wallpaper and tacky sculptures like she’s waiting for the people from Good Housekeeping to show up, Tinja appears confined within a life that has been designed for her with the same exacting eye. Starved for love, Tinja works hard for a gymnastics competition she has little personal interest in so that her mother can, one presumes, relive her own glory days through the child. This isn’t the only act of sabotage brewing in the family. Tinja discovers that her dopey father (Jani Volanen) is being openly cuckolded; a concept that is quite bewildering for such a young and sheltered girl to comprehend.
So, when Tinja finds an egg out in the forest and brings it home to rear in secret, Hatching starts radically externalising her suppressed rage and resentment with monstrous results.
Considering the poise of the camera throughout, one might be mistaken for thinking that Hatching would unfurl as a menacing slow brood to match the oppressive atmosphere in director Hanna Bergholm’s household; the reveal of what’s hidden in that ever-growing shell reserved for some belated third act punch. The film bucks expectations in this regard, cracking the egg with relative swiftness. What emerges has an enjoyable physicality, the combined efforts of practical and digital effects work that holds court with any human actor with whom it shares screen time.
The birdlike monstrosity naturally comes to think of Tinja as its mother, and needs sustenance as any youngling would. Through this absurd and frightening relationship, Tinja is able to find a closeness lacking in the rest of her life; a damnation of the narcissistic parenting evidenced by the mother and her father’s absenteeism. At the same time Bergholm is able to develop a potent metaphor for Tinja’s evident eating disorder. Here the regurgitation of food takes on a dual significance but the psychological fur-ball wrought from Hatching‘s gut is theoretically sound. Forcing herself to vomit is an act of control, even as Tinja herself finds it distasteful, and can be broadly read as a reaction to the escalating stresses around her.
Things don’t stop there, however, and as the creature – dubbed Alli by Tinja – starts to evolve, so Bergholm’s way with subtlety diminishes. Soon we’re in quite different but familiar territory, dealing with the dark half narrative that has been a staple of horror and fairy stories since day dot. These kind of manifest trauma narratives have become increasingly popular, especially in indie circles, and while Bergholm’s methodology is sound, the familiarity dampens the effect somewhat. The galling confidence to keep her monster out in the open and the film’s generally offbeat tone mark it out as this year’s Lamb (no bad thing), but if Lamb wasn’t the touchstone that sprang to mind there’d be two or three others waiting in the wings.
Fortunately Hatching is engaging enough to sail through in spite of this sense of déjà vu, chiefly as it throws in a few effective surface surprises. When we meet the mother’s bit-on-the-side, handyman Tero (Reino Nordin), we’re encouraged to think ill of him. Catching sight of his distressed home – “a fixer-upper” – doesn’t help either; it looks like a horror haunt straight out of the Conjuring universe. Instead, Tero turns out to be one of the few well-adjusted, reasonable and recognisable humans in a cast of malcontents and misfits. Such offerings undermine and subvert cliché, and are most welcome.
Many films have broken the veneer of picture-perfect suburbia, and commented on our seeming need to boast of our successes. It is only relatively recently, however, that we have seen this urge explode online, particularly with the rise of Instagram and influencers like the mother depicted here (a venomous mix of pushy parent and preening vlogger). Yet no insight is given to the mother’s online infamy beyond her own nightstand rehearsals. It’s all the eerier to consider that her reach is very small, or even that she doesn’t post her videos at all. The massive, elaborate and striking mirror that decorates her bedroom wall is all she really needs, even as it reflects back at her the shifting reality of her increasingly warped nest.
Tinja’s fate is darker still, and the final reel’s descent into body horror and transformation leave us on a blunt but effective note regarding the long-term effects of toxic pressure and abuse from such selfish parents. Hatching may disarm with it’s daylight annihilation of Finnish suburbia, but not everything lands sunny side up.