Coming-of-age horror with a twist, Hatching is delightfully bizarre and disturbingly grotesque. With some of the best creature design I have seen in ages, the film aims to impress with a decidedly Swedish take on the ideal family. A female creative team, one that includes writer Ilja Rautsi and director Hanna Bergholm, is behind a movie that directly tackles themes of motherhood and femininity. Make no mistake, this could have been messy and even problematic in other hands. Instead, Hatching is quite the experience—a singular, captivating watch exuding style, with an eye for the macabre.
Perfection is not easy, especially for young Tinja (Siiri Solalinna). An aspiring gymnast, Tinja’s greatest aspiration is to be better than the peers who think her too weird to hang out with. Tinja’s Mother (Sophia Heikkilä) hosts her own blog, perhaps ironically titled “Lovely Everyday Life,” that chronicles the “ordinary” daily life of a Finnish family. Subsequently, Mother records and photographs everything in front of her to an annoying degree, and appears to have an entirely different personality once the cameras are off. Ensuring that Tinja reaches greatness would be an easy job requirement for any mom, but it seems Mother is so concerned with appearances that she only wants Tinja’s gymnastics career to explode for selfish reasons. She presents as the perfect mom, but Mother has many issues of her own.
Hatching wastes no time establishing an eerie and unnerving vibe. While filming for the blog, a small black bird comes careening into the living room and causes chaos that results in a smashed chandelier. Tinja manages to throw a blanket over the bird, but when she hands it over to Mother, she snaps its neck with little care. Tinja is instructed to “trash it,” and regretfully disposes of the tiny thing with tear-filled eyes. By all normal standards, this bird should be dead, and yet, Tinja later discovers it whining in pain on the ground in a large clearing. Tinja puts it out of its misery by bashing its head in multiple times with a heavy rock. Tinja finds an egg in its nest that she promptly takes home and puts under her pillow for care.
One would assume that caring for this egg will comprise the majority of Hatching’s runtime. For awhile, Tinja cares for it, transferring it into her teddy bear after she hears a faint heartbeat. It gets bigger with an orange glow, and even quicker heartbeat. The film subverts expectations by hatching the egg a mere twenty minutes in, and it maintains an almost breakneck pace from then on. What emerges from out of the egg is an impressive-looking bird-like creature that becomes attached to Tinja as if it views her as an actual mother. Practical effects are favored over CGI, excitingly amping up the gore galore. Hatching becomes a true creature feature, and avoids falling prey to that annoying trope of questioning whether the horror unfolding is real or imaginary.
Structured like a sinister fairy tale, Hatching only gets better as the creature spends more time with Tinja. While getting into the specifics would prove to be too great a spoiler, Hatching is filled with surprises and shocks that left me in a satisfied state of disbelief once it concluded. The ending certainly fits the movie like a glove, raising further questions of morality. Love it or hate it, this is one stunning body horror masterpiece that will be remembered for years to come.
Hatching burst from its egg when it screened at the 2022 Cleveland International Film Festival, and will be creeping towards a limited theatrical release from IFC Films on Friday, April 29th.