Pubescent pressures are compounded by the presence of a horrifying mutant doppelganger in Hatching, Finnish director Hanna Bergholm’s debut feature. Written by Ilja Rautsi, the film is a domestic drama at its core, detailing the toxicity inherent to a controlling mother-daughter dynamic. However, what elevates Hatching to the upper echelons of the familial horror-drama is its inspired use of practical effects and puppeteering, resulting in a genuinely unsettling movie monster that appears all the more uncanny in its originality. While the finer plot details might not feel as fresh as its central doppelganger entity, Hatching hits the right emotional cues nonetheless—instilling its fair share of thrilling scares while stirring adolescent pathos.
In an idyllic Finnish suburb, a seemingly perfect family lives a seemingly perfect life. At least, that’s the image that the family matriarch (Sophia Heikkilä) carefully curates via regular vlog posts. Her videos capture their home’s polished decor, making sure to highlight elegant floral details and crystal chandeliers. Just as aesthetically congruent as the home’s interior is the family that resides inside it: The father (Jani Volanen) is well-dressed and mild-mannered, their bespectacled young son Matthias (Oiva Ollila) endearingly precocious and their 12-year-old daughter Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) a rising local gymnast.
Although she’s totally dedicated to her training—even forgoing pre-teen hangouts in order to practice—Tinja can’t help but fall short in the eyes of her perfectionist mother, who was herself a figure skater in her youth. As the anxiety surrounding an upcoming competition threatens to unravel her, Tinja finds a mysterious object in the woods surrounding her family’s home: A speckled egg, solitary in the world without a mother to brood it. Tinja gingerly carries the egg home and places it under her pillow, gently transmitting her own body heat. Just a short time later, the egg grows ten times in size—and the being germinating within begins to emerge. A gangly, gnarly bird-like creature bursts into the world, viewing Tinja as its proper mother. While she finds it initially repulsive, Tinja feels a connection with the creature, whom she affectionately names Alli. She bathes her, hides her from Tinja’s overbearing mother and even regurgitates bird feed for it to feast on. As Alli grows closer to Tinja, her physical appearance begins to mirror hers and, on top of that, Alli acts violent and territorial toward those that upset Tinja, from noisy neighbors to pesky parents.
Alli’s expert practical design and execution truly hoists Hatching into a tier of horror filmmaking that feels all but neglected in recent offerings. In order to achieve the principal look of the creature—with its sinewy beak and emaciated frame—the crew utilized a series of animatronic puppets, only utilizing VFX to remove the presence of manipulating strings. This moving, physical presence adds an uncanny appeal to the film, allowing the monster to honestly occupy the same physical space as Tinja. Perhaps even more impressive is that as Alli begins to morph into Tinja’s veritable doppelganger, first-time actress Solalinna inhabits both roles (Solalinna, like her character, exhibits great talent for a 12-year-old). The result is a remarkable, uninhibited feat for a newcomer—particularly when the added layer of prosthetic make-up threatens to shroud facial expressions and impressive physicality. A seamless transition from puppetry to performance is hard to pull off, but Hatching accomplishes just that (with credit undoubtedly due to lead animatronic designer Gustav Hoegen, who previously worked on Star Wars and Jurassic World franchise installments).
Thrilling creature design and an impressive dual-role don’t totally justify some of the film’s more subdued missteps. For a film that leans into body horror in relation to Tinja’s ever-morphing body double, the lack of investigation into the physical demand of gymnastics itself is totally surprising. Clearly inspired by Black Swan—with similar motifs regarding molting feathers, razor-sharp talons and evil doubles—Hatching would have benefited from enmeshing itself more in the toll that gymnastic takes on women’s bodies, akin to the unvarnished glimpse of ballerinas that Black Swan is oft-regarded for. Considering the fact that Tinja’s mother reveals that she sustained a career-ending injury while competitively ice skating, Hatching easily could have explored the relationship between women’s athletics and the bodily harm they often cause. In fact, Alli’s disturbingly slight frame is meant to represent the prevalence of eating disorders among young women, particularly athletes.
However, it’s understandable why the film opts for a relatively straightforward narrative. In keeping its plot uncomplicated, and without nodding too heavily to its cinematic inspirations, Hatching is given the space to actually come into its own. By singularly focusing on the monster’s unique appearance and qualities, the film evades easy comparison—even if it does boast a handful of predictable narrative beats. Yet even in its domestic drama leanings, the film manages to throw a few gasp-worthy curve balls—secrets, lies and cuckolding imbuing a distinctly adult slant to what might otherwise be heralded as a plainly coming-of-age horror film. While Alli might symbolize awkward teenage growing pains, the creature also represents the repressed, unacknowledged imperfections of nuclear families. When these tight-knit units become mere commodities to flaunt for an invisible audience, the realities of home-life struggles aren’t allowed to be acknowledged. For Tinja, who finds herself on the awkward cusp of a commanding childhood and individual autonomy, this picture-perfect facade becomes too much to maintain. Alli acts out Tinja’s most feral intrusive thoughts, acting as her evil surrogate after years of always abiding by her mother. Hatching might seem like an obvious metaphor, but its ingenious artistry keeps it thoroughly horrifying throughout its lean 86 minutes. Considering the constant glut of mid-tier horror, it’s refreshing to encounter a film that’s rooted in traditional genre filmmaking without buckling under the weight of its influences.
Director: Hanna Bergholm
Writer: Ilja Rautsi
Stars: Siiri Solalinna, Sophia Heikkilä, Jani Volanen, Reino Nordin, Saija Lentonen
Release Date: April 29, 2022 (IFC Midnight)
Natalia Keogan is a freelance film writer based in Queens, New York. Her work has been featured in Filmmaker Magazine, Paste Magazine and Blood Knife Magazine, among others. Find her on Twitter @nataliakeogan