‘Hatching’ Review: Eerily Atmospheric Finnish Body-Horror Cracks Open a Tween Girl’s Concealed Grudges

Elevated by newcomer Siiri Solalinna's fearless performance, Hanna Bergholm's debut feature puts an original spin on a familiar doppelgänger premise.

Courtesy of IFC Midnight

Motherhood is scary stuff. From “Rosemary’s Baby” through to “The Babadook” and “Hereditary,” a certain breed of horror film has taught us as much. Equally disturbing, in Hanna Bergholm’s inventive, alarmingly sunny genre outing “Hatching,” is adolescence: lurking under a protective mother’s wings, waiting to crack and come of age in a Finnish suburb’s suffocating, expertly calibrated atmosphere.

But “Hatching” is no blood-soaked “Carrie.” One could instead think of it as the weird lovechild of “American Beauty” and a grotesque version of “E.T.,” with the uncanny touch of Yorgos Lanthimos. Even this comparison feels incomplete in defining Bergholm’s directorial debut, a wicked foray into youthful anxieties that is admitted short on genuine scares, but full of delicious squirms and cringes through Bergholm’s skillful play with body horror and doppelgänger tropes — the same spirit that gave us both Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and Andrzej Żuławski’s “Possession.”

Written by Ilja Rautsi, the story centers on Tinja (sensational newcomer Siiri Solalinna), a dollishly wide-eyed, lonely tween gymnast who’d do anything to impress her overbearing, unnamed mother (Sophia Heikkilä, subtly terrifying), be it malnourishing herself for the sake of sport or practicing a flip on high bars until her hands bleed. And who can blame Tinja after meeting her mom? Arrogantly domineering beneath a façade of fake smiles and forced kindness, she passive-aggressively pushes her daughter’s limits for an upcoming gymnastics tournament, and diligently posts videos on her popular “Lovely Everyday Life” blog. We soon see that the image-obsessed suburbanite is concerned not with authentic living, but with curating an idyllic, Instagram-ready existence for others to envy.

What fractures the family’s manicured reality is a wounded bird that one day barges into their comically pink-and-pastel living room. (Heavy on floral wallpapers, Päivi Kettunen’s eye-popping production design bursts with humor and unease, matched by Ulrika Sjölin’s purposely tacky-preppy costuming on Heikkilä.) Mesmerized in the aftermath of the curious episode, Tinja can’t help but wander out to the woods, bringing back a mysterious egg that she nests inside her giant teddy bear. Gradually, Tinja starts building a bond with her rapidly growing discovery, keeping it a secret from her pesky little brother, happy-go-lucky father and probing mother. Things only get more complicated once the egg hatches, unveiling a winged, screeching, skin-and-bones creature with giant eyes, flat nostrils and an intimidatingly long beak — resembling less a horror movie monster than a childishly primal creature of the Harry Potter universe.

From this point, Bergholm and Rautsi fashion a somewhat predictable story, using the enormous bird (named Alli) as an evil twin conduit for Tinja’s darkest impulses, fears and even grudges. And they have ample twisted fun with the concept, as the young girl slowly grows aware of her own scores to settle. As Alli starts morphing into a demonic Tinja lookalike — abetted by impressively lean, mean special effects and Jarkko T. Laine’s spine-tingling lensing — Solalinna delivers a terrific double performance as a vulnerable child haunted by parental expectations and her low sense of self-worth. Her inner jealousy erupts, meanwhile, with the arrival of a picture-perfect girl next door, a more accomplished gymnast with a sweet little dog — something Tinja has always desired but been denied by her mother. Suffice to say some blood will be spilled.

Amid the mischievous mayhem that ensues, Bergholm and Rautsi deserve credit for not abandoning Tinja’s mother, giving her a separate storyline involving a closeted extramarital affair — as seen through her daughter’s eyes. While the filmmakers don’t deepen this narrative enough, it generates intrigue nonetheless, suggesting more to Tinja’s unhappy mom and her unspoken desires than meets the eye. Is it possible that this is indeed the first time she’s found love, like she claims she has? It feels quietly radical to permit nuance and dimension in this pushy-parent figure, beyond her neatly sculpted waves and prickly demeanor. By the time Bergholm’s fairytale-gone-ugly reaches its unhinged finale, it feels like Tinja isn’t the only one coming out of her loveless shell, or confronting the maternal beast within to the point of no return.

‘Hatching’ Review: Eerily Atmospheric Finnish Body-Horror Cracks Open a Tween Girl’s Concealed Grudges

Reviewed online, Jan. 14, 2022. In Sundance Film Festival (Midnight). Running time: 86 MIN. (Original title: "Pahanhautoja")

  • Production: (Finland) An IFC Midnight presentation of a Silva Mysterium Oy, Hobab production in co-production with Film I Väst. (World sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Producers: Mika Ritalahti, Nico Ritalahti.
  • Crew: Director: Hanna Bergholm. Writer: Ilja Rautsi. Camera: Jarkko T. Laine. Editor: Linda Jildmal. Music: Stein Berge Svendsen.
  • With: Jani Volanen, Siiri Solalinna, Sophia Heikkilä, Saija Lentonen, Reino Nordin, Oiva Ollila. (Finnish dialogue)