[Interview] Hanna Bergholm for HATCHING
Courtesy IFC Midnight
In HATCHING, 12-year-old gymnast, Tinja is desperate to please her image-obsessed mother, whose popular blog ‘Lovely Everyday Life’ presents their family’s idyllic existence as manicured suburban perfection. One day, after finding a wounded bird in the woods, Tinja brings its strange egg home, nestles it in her bed, and nurtures it until it hatches. The creature that emerges becomes her closest friend and a living nightmare, plunging Tinja beneath the impeccable veneer into a twisted reality that her mother refuses to see.

For the upcoming wide release of the coming-of-age horror film, HATCHING, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Sarah Musnicky spoke with director Hanna Bergholm, where they discussed how they worked in tandem with screenwriter Ilja Rautsi to develop the story, the challenges of shooting with the precious Alli, and developing the ultra-feminine aesthetic for the film.

Editor’s Note: This interview is spoiler-free.

Hanna, how did you get involved in the screen playwriting process with Ilja Rautsi?

Hanna Bergholm: It all started with Ilja, the screenwriter, contacting me and saying that he has this one-sentence idea of a boy hatching a doppelganger out of an egg, and I just thought that this idea is so fascinating. I haven’t seen a film like this before. But I immediately wanted to change the lead character into a girl. Then we really started to develop the story together from this one sentence. All those themes that are in the film came out from this one sentence. I thought that if somebody is hatching something, it means that she’s trying to hide maybe some of her emotions, some sides of her character. And in HATCHING, there is a theme of motherhood and the theme of growing up. So, all those really came about because of this one sentence.

Courtesy IFC Midnight

How did the gymnastics become involved in the character development of Tinja?

Hanna Bergholm: That was because we thought that we want the girl to have some kind of hobby, where the mother could really kind of push her and that we could show that the mother wants the daughter to succeed in some way. And then, we thought that gymnastics is good because it’s a competitive sport, and it’s very important to be physically kind of perfect and do the movements perfectly in that sport. Actually, Ilja has been a former gymnast when he was a younger boy, and he liked the sport. So, we also wanted to show that the sport itself is not bad. The coach is nice, and the other girls seem to have fun. But it’s because the mother is really pushing and pressing Tinja, and it’s not the girl’s own kind of dream to be a gymnast. It’s the mother’s dream, and that kind of creates her anxiety.

When it came time to cast the main character, Tinja, what was that process like? Because you have the added gymnastic element, which requires an additional layer of physicality to the role but also narrows your search in a way. 

Hanna Bergholm: Yeah, that was really challenging because she had to do a double role and she had to at least be believable, even though we used a stunt double for her in the gymnastics scenes. But she should be able to be very flexible and do at least something on her own. So it was very demanding, and so we auditioned 1200 girls all around Finland to find the perfect girl, and then we found Siiri Solalinna, who had just turned 12 at the time, and had never acted anywhere before. But she was just a natural talent and so wonderful.

I am obsessed with Alli. I love her so much. When you guys were conceptualizing what was going to hatch out of the egg, what ideas did you throw out? How did the creature change in the process?

Hanna Bergholm: Of course, in the script, it was already [written] that when it hatches, it’s partly bird and partly girl, and then it starts to evolve. But in the script, it wasn’t explained so clearly what it is like. Tthen I really started to design the look of the creature with two concept artists, and what I really wanted and what I explained to them is that first of all, I want the creature to be totally deformed. It’s the total opposite of these perfect gymnasts. It’s so deformed it can’t even walk properly. And it’s very anorexic-looking because there is a subtle theme of eating disorders in the film, and I wanted it to be totally disgusting. So, it’s something that if the mother would see it, she would be disgusted. I kind of explained that it’s like a smelly teenager. It’s raging towards its parents and, at the same time, just wants to be loved. It’s not just an evil character, and that’s why I really wanted it to have very big eyes. It’s kind of very innocent as well, and kind of lovable. So, we drew concept images of the creature [surrounding these ideas].

Also, I really wanted it to have a real physical presence. I didn’t want it to be a digital character, and I have always admired these old kinds of practical effect films like E.T., the old Alien films, or [anything] with animatronic puppets. Then I knew that we needed the best person to make this puppet, and I actually Googled that. Who is the best animatronic designer in the world? Google told me that it is Gustav Hoegen, who has done the latest Star Wars films and Jurassic World, and so on. So, I contacted him and he saw the concept images of the creature and got fascinated by the story, and he collected a wonderful team to make this puppet for us.

Courtesy IFC Midnight

Yeah, I spent most of the film trying to figure out what was animatronic and what was smoothed out by CGI if any.

Hanna Bergholm: Actually, all you see in the finished film is what we did in the shootings and there were just a couple of shots that we did some extra things for the face but only in a few shots. Basically, we had five puppeteers in the shootings, kind of moving the puppet with rods, and there was Gustav Hoegen moving the facial expressions and fingers with remote controls.

Also, when it evolves, it was Conor O’Sullivan, who is a two-time Oscar-nominated SFX makeup designer, and he has done “Game of Thrones”, The Dark Knight, and Saving Private Ryan, and he and his team created this special effects makeup for us. In the very end, there are CG effects, and it was UMedia from Belgium that created those for us. It was really a team effort of many people to create this creature.

There’s such a distinctive visual aesthetic to the film. Was the more girly whimsical aesthetic what you were originally planning from the beginning? Did that evolve at all from conceptualization to execution?

Hanna Bergholm: That was what I did have in mind because I really wanted to show the mother’s world. She’s really controlling the whole family, and I wanted to show how the girl feels that there is a strange atmosphere in this whole family and the mother’s love feels somehow fake. I wanted to have the audience to have the same kind of uneasy feeling when they watch the film.

And so, the mother has really decorated everything to be kind of perfect and lovely, and there’s there are no strong colors because the mother doesn’t allow any strong feelings, and there are no dark shadows because she doesn’t allow any secrets. Everything is in this soft light, and you can see everything and there are all those things that you would consider to be feminine and lovely like roses. There are so many roses that it’s kind of horrifying, I think.

So, that was what I was really after, and with the wonderful production design of Päivi Kettunen, we really talked about each idea together, and then she had the idea of having all the flowers that are inside the house to be dried flowers. They are all kind of dead. It was a very cool process to develop this world.

Courtesy IFC Midnight

Because of the time we’re in with social media shaping things, there’s that extra glimpse of that curated image too.

Hanna Bergholm: Yes, and that was something I really wanted for the story because we wanted to tell a story about a mother who is trying to keep up appearances. And I think today’s way of keeping up appearances is in social media. So, I really wanted to have that in the film. I watched some vlogs of some happy family vlogs. All the colors were matching, and oh, our life is so perfect. And then I started to think, Okay, what if our character is trying to control their whole life and wants everything to be so perfect, and how horrifying that actually would be. That’s how the idea came to me.

It all resonates on screen. To quickly wrap things up, what was the most difficult scene for you to shoot?

Hanna Bergholm: Well, every time we shot with the puppet, the bird-like monster, that was very challenging, because we had these five puppeteers around the puppet, and it needs multiple takes to really make the puppet look alive. They were super pros. They had been working in all the Star Wars films, and they were so nice and so professional. But even so, there was a lot going on, and many people around it. Som that was very difficult. And also, there was one day when we shot a scene that is at the beginning of the film when a bird flies into their living room, and it’s crashing into everything. We had a real bird flying here and there. The bird wasn’t harmed at all. But that was a lot with the crushing of all the items, and the bird flying here and there…

Making sure it’s hitting every mark.

Hanna Bergholm: Yeah, and he was quite a funny bird because it had lived all his life in a cage. So, it didn’t really like to fly. The animal wrangler was kind of tossing it, and then it flew a little bit, and then it started to run away and we were trying to catch it. But it was a very cute bird.

HATCHING will open in theaters on April 29, 2022, and VOD/Digital on May 17, 2022, from IFC Midnight. Learn more about the film with our review!

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Sarah Musnicky
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