This review of Hanna Bergholm’s Hatching is part of our 2022 Sundance Film Festival coverage. For more reviews and essays, visit our Sundance tab.
It’s a free country, but while you technically could make an argument against the high quality of horror films we saw last year you’d be wrong to do so. 2021 was fantastic for the genre with films about killers, ghosts, zombies, ennui, and more delivering chills and thrills. There was, however, one sub-genre that has been somewhat lacking for great examples in recent years — the creature-feature. 2022 is already looking to turn things around, though, starting with a monster movie from Finland called Hatching. Happily, for those who want something more than *just* monsters, Hanna Bergholm‘s feature debut also pairs its beast with a commentary on motherhood and familial expectations.
Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) is a preteen gymnast whose enjoyment of the sport is overshadowed by her mother’s (Sophia Heikkilä) insistence that Tinja be the absolute best at it. It’s all part of her mom’s perfect family life, the image of which she projects outward through her constant smile and social media. Of course, all is not perfect, as Tinja discovers when she sees her mom kissing the handyman. She takes on a motherly role of her own, though, when she finds a egg in the woods — after mercy-killing the wounded mother bird laying beside it. The egg grows to enormous size before cracking open to reveal a bird/human hybrid that quickly imprints on Tinja in some dangerous ways.
Bergholm is weaving together two threads with Hatching, and while neither half quite knocks it out of the park on their own, she makes the pairing work quite well all the same. What are children but little monsters? What are controlling mothers but big monster-makers? Tinja names the creature Alli, and aided in part by a psychic link between them it begins threatening those who upset the girl. Monster begets monster… begets monster. And viewers benefit from the tale as it delivers grim laughs, creepy beats, and some fun puppetry effects to bring the weird little bird-thing to life.
That puppetry, even with mild CG touch-ups to fine tune the illusion, finds wonder on a budget and delivers a tangible monster. From its toothy beak and clawed talons to black eyes that keep watch over young Tinja, it feels like a Jim Henson creation circa his Labyrinth days. Bergholm teases a slight air of goofiness with the bird, but things grow darker as it begins to change its appearance. Darker, but never really too dark as the film ultimately feels like horror suitable for younger viewers.
That’s not a knock and instead simply means events never grow graphic or brutal in any real way. Of course, that’s not to suggest there aren’t some cringe-inducing visuals here as the bird’s transformation and its psychic link with Tinja lead to some painful-looking beats. Bergholm captures the minor menace along with some smartly staged suspense scenes that up the horror potential given what happens to the neighbor’s dog…
Motherly love and sacrifice are familiar enough realities, and Hatching gives the conceit a monstrous bite, but those early creature leanings give way to a more pointed commentary on the dynamic between mother and daughter. Tinja’s cuck of a father and little brat of a brother bring some laughs as supporting players while the women — mother, daughter, bird-girl — take center stage. Heikkilä is playing her role with a heightened, almost exaggerated sense that entertains even if it sometimes feels slightly more removed from the film’s reality. Solalinna, though, is pitch perfect. An actual gymnast, she nails her physical landings as well as she does her emotive ones. She captures the love and fear that come with “motherhood” while also channeling the petty angers of youth, and she succeeds at finding a note of tragedy along the way.
Hatching clocks in at under ninety minutes, and it’s a smart call as Bergholm and writer Ilja Rautsi know there’s not a whole lot more they can squeeze out of their intentions here. They succeed at delivering a playfully dark fable and little more, but that’s already a lot better than most first features manage. Here’s hoping they take a bigger bite next time out.
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