HATCHING l Courtesy of Sundance Institute | Photo by IFC Midnight.

Children are often seen as an extension of their parents. How they dress, how they act, all of it comes back to the parent and how they are to be perceived by the public. This oftentimes can be taken to an extreme by the more controlling parent. This can often leave children feeling restrained or suffering a loss of identity as their parent(s) curate their lives. Even more so in the age of social media with parent bloggers broadcasting selective portions of their lives to the world. In Hanna Bergholm‘s debut feature HATCHING, there is an exploration of identity, motherhood, and its complications through the eyes of Tinja (Siiri Solalinna). While at times the story itself gets muddled, the end result gives much for viewers to think about.

In HATCHING, we are introduced to the 12-year-old gymnast, Tinja. Everything seems picture perfect on the surface. We’re walked through the family’s idyllic image that Tinja’s mother captures on camera. But the ugliness beneath the surface is quickly revealed when an unwanted intruder mucks up their scene. Tinja’s mother will have perfection no matter the cost. It is her world and her husband and children are there as accessories to amplify the perfection she craves. One day, after finding a wounded bird in the woods, Tinja brings its strange egg home. This egg becomes her safety net. She nurtures it until one day it hatches something…different. The creature that is birthed ends up becoming her friend. But, as time goes by, it starts to tap into its repressed monstrous nature, revealing that perhaps we truly are the extension of our parents.

Siiri Solalinna delivers a soul-aching performance as Tinja. Carrying the weight of exhaustion and pain in trying to match up with her mother’s expectations, we feel her strain easily through the screen. Her desire to be loved is woven into her confusion surrounding her mother’s behavior. This period in a child’s life is filled to the brim with changes. Questions arise. Morals become compromised. Hormones spike. With Solalinna’s performance, Ilja Rautsi‘s writing, and Bergholm’s direction, we are able to see all the complicated nuances in a character this age come to life onscreen. Throw in a strange raptor-creature coming out of a giant egg, and you have a recipe for something truly strange.

Delivering the most terrifying performance is Sophia Heikkilä as Mother. She perfectly encapsulates the narcissism and perfectionist qualities that require of the role. All smiles, you have to question what she is doing next. There is care taken in Heikkilä’s scene work with Solalinna, where we acquire further insight into the screwed-up nature of their relationship. The push and pull between the two as Tinja tries to live up to her mother’s expectations and Mother dangling the carrot of affection over the child’s head, it sparks a necessary empathy. It also serves as a great example of the dangers of co-dependency between parent and child. Especially when we see what happens when Mother is deprived of what she truly desires. In this particular moment, Heikkilä delivers something truly spine-tingling.

The art direction from Juris Zhukovskis in combination with Päivi Kettunen‘s production design, and set decoration helps emphasize several things. The personality and focus of Mother is reflected in her carefully designed home. Her bedroom seems plucked out of a fairytale. A white gauzy canopied bed takes center stage, reminding of what a princess or queen would sleep in. Her daughter Tinja is trapped in perpetual girlhood, with pastel flower designs covering the walls. A giant pink teddy bear sits on her bed, with purples and pinks decorating the sheets and blankets. The egg Tinja brings home fits in well aesthetically. It’s not cause for concern outside of its largesse. However, the creature that bursts forth stands in contrast. There is ooze, viscera, and blood. The creature itself is dark and is like an inkblot in the perfectly constructed home. These colors and aesthetic designs paint a picture that we can’t turn away from and it works.

Another highlight is the creature design crafted by Gustav Hoegen. Alli, as viewers and Tinja will come to know the hatchling, embodies the raptor species. With vocalizations that may remind viewers of its ancestors i.e. dinosaurs, there’s an eeriness to the creature. It keeps you on your toes. One second it’s endearing in its behaviors, but just as quickly it will try to take you down. Jonna Aaltonen’s and Hertta Karen’s physical performances in each stage of Alli’s growth and maturation help sell the eeriness and animalistic qualities further. Testing the limits of Tinja’s maternal instincts, it’s a guessing game as to what the outcome of raising this hatchling will be for the young girl. To no one’s surprise, though, I personally would snuggle this creature in a heartbeat.

While there are positives, there are questions that are brought up by the overall execution of the story. The ending of HATCHING alone will have you wondering what the audience is meant to take away. Themes of modern motherhood, the maternal instinct, unrealistic expectations, and more all seem to be fighting for supremacy with no real winner by film’s end. The ending almost undercuts everything that’s up for discussion, which lends itself to creating narrative confusion. There’s also a story-related element introduced maybe a third of the way in the film that, at first, doesn’t quite connect. This is ironic because the plot point introduced relies on the connection between mother and child, but this gets lost in translation upon its introduction. Despite these things, though, there are more positives than negatives here.

HATCHING is a coming-of-age story that could easily be read as a modern-day fairytale. Fairytales often tell stories that contain warnings, utilizing a young protagonist as the tool in which the warning is conveyed. Every step Tinja makes is a step against her. While figuring out her body, her family, and all the changes coming at her, womanhood and – ultimately – motherhood are rearing its face. But this gift of motherhood she receives through her hatchling carries with it. A weapon that might sever the twisted relationship between Tinja and her mother. While the story itself doesn’t always work, there is horror to be found here. The horror of growing up, the horror of co-dependency, and the horror of raising a child.

As a general disclaimer, there is animal death featured in this film if you are trying to avoid.

HATCHING had its World Premiere at Sundance on January 22, 2022. The film opens in theaters and on Digital/VOD on April 29, 2022, from IFC Midnight.

Sarah Musnicky
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