Growing up can be monstrous…
…In Hanna Bergholm’s coming of age creature feature Hatching, which just had its world premiere at Sundance, the terror that a young girl faces in getting older becomes a monster that’s all too real.
Written by Ilja Rautsi, Hatching introduces us to Tinja (Siiri Solalinna), a young gymnast with an overbearing mother (Sophia Heikkila) who demands perfection. When Tinja finds a strange egg, she decides to nurture it to life. But what hatches out of that egg is no cute and fuzzy animal, but a vicious thing hell-bent on teaching those who mistreat Tinja a lesson.
Hatching cracks open the shell of our pleasant exteriors and dumps out the bloody, primal goop inside for all to see.
Like any household hiding horrible secrets (or people, in the case of Tinja’s mother), Tinja’s family lives an outwardly happy life. Coated in pinks and blues, their house looks like Easter threw up in it. Both girls are always dressed in pink, father (Jani Volanen) and younger sibling, Matias (Oiva Ollila) always dressed in light blues. The gender-specific coloring is nauseating. With dad so absent he’s practically comatose and Matias your typical obnoxious little brother, it’s clear mom, an influencer, runs this joint and keeps everything her way, right down to the colors of their clothing. It’s a stylish choice by Bergholm that creates a clear dichotomy between the women and men, reflecting mom’s wanting for what she considers the picturesque family.
Tinja, lucky her, gets the brunt of mom’s attention, a manic obsession for her to be flawless. She makes Tinja perform her gymnastics routines until her knuckles are bloody. God help her if her posture is off. Everyone, including Tinja’s coach (Saija Lentonen), sees how she’s treated, but says nothing. Hatching is a brutal film that shines a light on the ugliness of our more animalistic sides. That part of ourselves that we can feel but can’t always explain. Whatever that thing is that inspires unspoken battles between mothers and their daughters and sons and their fathers, it’s at the heart of Hatching.
And Tinja is just beginning to experience the cruel nature of what it means to become an adult.
Hatching takes the very idea of motherhood and warps it into something truly grotesque. Nevermind what Tinja’s mother has become. Our very first shot of Tinja is from behind her as she stretches, spine creaking and cracking as if she is already transforming into something hideous. Giving birth is portrayed as destructive (R.I.P. to the teddy Tinja incubates the egg in). Taking care of a child, with the monster acting as Tinja’s hungry little spawn, is horrifying. Hatching is ripe with metaphorical awfulness that portrays the struggles of motherhood, while also dealing with Tinja’s crumbling under the weight of her own mother’s vicious femininity. The film touches on the pressures of being a growing young girl that feels she has to be perfect, forcing her to gradually put away childish things while cleverly exploring elements like bulimia and bodily changes through Tinja’s monster.
Speaking of that monster, Hatching more than satisfies that craving for a good, gooey creature feature. Bergholm combines puppeteering, digital effects and some nerve-rattling sound design to bring the monster, Alli, as Tinja calls it, to life. Cringe-worthy body horror also plays a role, enhanced by unsettling, contortionist movements from Solalinna that features her becoming more and more like a primal beast. Hatching unleashes a frightening monster in the pain of a little girl, with Solalinna capturing the audience with a physical performance that mesmerizes.
Between the film’s brutal nature and outright horrific—sometimes disgusting—effects, there’s an oddly enchanting layer of Hatching underneath the ominous atmospherics. The house, the clothes, the avian abomination that comes out of that egg…Hatching plays out like a dark fairytale, a world full of magic and wonder through the eyes of a young girl. Scenes like Tinja bathing her baby monster bring a humanity to the thing that’s so sweet it hurts. Some of you might even want to hug it. For a little while, at least. Because this monster isn’t Gizmo. And Hatching’s candy-coated exterior is hiding something so much uglier underneath.
For all of the slimy effects and cruel thematics, Hatching doesn’t indulge much in a body count, so don’t expect your typical monster muncher of a movie. Bergholm’s film also walks a tightrope between camp and legitimate horror, wobbling back and forth in a way where the two don’t always gel. It often feels like the film isn’t sure which to lean more into, threatening to send it free-falling like a baby bird tumbling out of a nest from high up. Hatching avoids getting egg all over its face though with engaging characters and strong thematics that lift it above average expectations.
Hatching isn’t always effective purely as a monster movie, and it’s messaging gets a little muddled by the third act, but Bergholm’s film does what so many creature features fail to in bringing a genuine heart to an otherwise mean movie. It digs its talons into the fierce battle for dominance that sometimes occurs between mother and daughter, parent and child, while also exposing the love that’s still in there somewhere.
Hatching is a monster movie with heart that deserves your loving attention.
Just be careful. It bites.
Hatching comes to VOD April 29th from IFC Midnight.
By Matt Konopka