Social Commentary + Body Horror = Modern Horror Movie is a sum that’s ten-a-penny these days, so to get your fiercely personal story tinged with eyebrow raising concepts to stand out from the malformed crowd, you really have to go balls to the wall to get noticed – enter Finnish oddity, Hatching; a strange tale of growing pains, family drama and a big mutant bird told through the eye of director Hanna Bergholm who makes her feature debut.
I personally love it when weird shit comes in from other countries because I find it fascinating to see what other contries have to say when skewering everything from family politics to online culture, not to mention how they handle liberal spaying of the red stuff. So with this in mind I was particularly looking forward to this movie and its plot which – if I’m being honest – sounded like something out of Jim Henson’s The Storyteller if everyone involved was high on crack…
12 year old Tinja works extremely hard to impress her perfection obsessed mother by dedicating endless hours practising for a upcoming gymnastics tournament, but anxiety hangs heavy in the air when the over-worked pre-teen simply can’t allow herself to except that she’s good, but far short of great.
But as she frets, her mother remains firmly fixated on her professional online blog that paints her life as a make believe world full of glamour and success even though her husband is a meek enabler and youngest son is an epically entitled little turd. Still, Tinja loyally plugs away until one day she comes across a wounded bird in the forest whom she puts out of its misery (with about half a dozen rock strikes) and then adopts an unmatched egg she finds close by. As the days go by, the egg grows to an unnatural size and then hatches to reveal a large, bug-eyed malformed bird that looks like a Skeksis from The Dark Crystal has adopted Gollum’s keep trim routine, but despite its ugly appearance and noticable claws, Tinja not only keeps the thing a secret by even names it Alli.
However, it soon becomes apparent that as time goes on that Alli is becoming more human and has devolved an E.T.-style psychic connection to Tinja, which is phenomenally bad timing because certain events are transporting that will raise the child’s stress level exponentially. Firstly it seems that the arrival of new friend Reeta can only be a good thing, but then it turns out that she’s better at gymnastics than Tinja and thus becomes a subconscious adversary, secondly, Tinja’s mother takes her hapless daughter into her confidence and reveals that she wants to leave her husband and shack up with hunky handyman Tero to selfishly make her life even more enviable. Putting all this stress on such an emotionally repressed child can be disastrous at the best of times, but to do it to one that is mentally linked to a half human, bird monster is surely going to result in utter chaos…
The best thing about Hatching is just how casual it all is about how truly odd its premise really gets. No explanation is even remotely attempted for the existence of the gangly-limbed bird that kicks things off or even how and why it does what it can do, but it all fits within the structure of the sparse, modern fairy tale Bergholm is striving to put on the screen. For the most part it all works really well with good performances and crisp direction all adding wait to the eccentric plot – but despite all of it’s inherent weirdness, there’s a distinct feeling that maybe the movie doesn’t go quite far enough to fully take advantage of it’s original premise.
However, what we do have does the job nicely, with Siiri Solalinna handling the duel roles of the overwhelmed Tinja and the final stage version of Alli amazingly well considering she has quite the complicated role to play. When not internally chewing herself to pieces thanks to the incredible pressure of either having to live up to her mother’s online version of herself or try to keep the existence of her feather “child” a secret, Solalinna switches from a coiled spring of an adolescent to something more relaxed and motherly when attempting to care for the volatile Alli and thus create some sort of existence for herself. Similarly, all that gymnastics background comes on handy when she’s playing the hissing, scar-faced human version of the creature that, for some reason, her family instantly thinks is her. Also scoring high is Sophia Heikkilä as Tinja’s monstrously selfish mother who underplays the urge to go full “Mommie Dearest” and keeps everything seething under the surface until the occasion blow up has her beating her own face against a steering wheel in frustration. It’s all a thinly veiled poke at the kind of people who go to inhuman lengths to project a seemingly idyllic life on social media no matter whatever kind of metaphorical pipe bombs are exploding all around them in the day to day of their real life (not to mention the kind of tightly wound parenting that has folks treating their kids like a mini-me in order to vicariously reclaim some lost glory) and the direction manages to tweak that sort of unloosening, domestic tension nicely, but if Hatching has a problem it’s that its payoff feels a little soft boiled.
Despite all the Lynchian themes on display (the rotting underbelly of a pristine suburban life is gleefully picked at like a scab) you get the feeling that maybe the film could have taken its more overtly monstrous themes a little further as the more obviously horror moments end up coming a distant second to the far more unsettling instances of passive aggressive child abuse because you really do want to know more about Alli as a thing as she slowly goes on her journey from effective animatronic to limber feral child.
Still, despite by longing for more monster stuff, Hatching’s contemporary sarcastic fairy tale marks Bergholm as a talent to watch, if only to see what endearing levels of strange she lays out next.