Never seen a Finnish film? Head over to the AMC Grapevine Mills to take in Hatching, a horror film that will crawl around in your brain. We had so many of these women-directed horror movies in the pandemic year of 2020, but too little of them since. This film is kin to the Finnish Christmas horror movie Rare Exports, but it’s female and far more twisted.
In a town that looks like an American exurb, Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) is a 12-year-old girl whose unnamed mother (Sophia Heikkilä) is a social media influencer who’s never less than perfectly dressed and coiffed as she blogs to her followers about the ideal life she leads. The opening sequence, in which a raven flies into their family’s living room, illustrates the difference between mother and daughter, as Tinja gently coaxes the bird until it’s trapped, only for her mom to promptly snap its neck. This does not kill the raven, and a nightmarish sequence ensues as Tinja locates the wounded animal and tries to end its misery with a rock, only to find that the bird won’t die. She finds an egg in its nest and takes it home, hiding it under a large pink teddy bear in her room. Soon the egg is the size of a football, then the size of a boulder. As promised by the title, it hatches, and out pops a baby bird that’s larger than Tinja herself. She names her new friend Alli.
This is the first feature directed by Hanna Bergholm, and I’m most impressed by the way she and writer Ilja Rautsi have primed Tinja’s domestic situation to explode. Her mother is screwing the handyman (Reino Nordin), while her father (Jani Volanen) knows about this and chooses to suffer silently. Her little brother (Oiva Ollila) tells mom and dad about Alli, going so far as to plop the headless corpse of the neighbor’s dog down on the coffee table, but the parents don’t believe him and punish him for lying. Mom is consumed with seeing her daughter win a gymnastics competition, but the new neighbor Reetta (Ida Määttäanen) — the owner of that unfortunate dog — is better than Tinja at the sport, and Mom looks at her like she’s thinking of kneecapping this girl. The real monster here is that mother, who is a female version of a jock dad, a former figure skater whose legs are covered in surgical scars, and who’s now living vicariously through her daughter. Tinja biffs it at the gymnastics meet, and then watches her mom slam her head against the steering wheel of their car until she draws blood. “Why can’t you ever let me be happy?”, she screams at her child.
No wonder Alli starts to look like Tinja as she molts, and Solalinna gives a remarkable double performance as the feral girl and the gymnast trying to keep her from eating everyone around her (including the handyman’s baby girl). Horror filmmakers love darkness, but Bergholm sets herself a challenge by flooding many of her scenes with light, and it pays off in a set piece when Alli stalks Reetta while she’s walking down a lonely country road, where the street lights afford her no place to hide. We’re meant to take Alli as the embodiment of Tinja’s bottled-up anger at her mother pushing her into a box, and thankfully Bergholm does not hammer that point home or make it too neat. Alli’s earlier monstrous form is quite effective, too, such that you won’t believe that the film was made on a €4 million budget. Hatching may not be the neatest told tale, but its stew of primal rage and fear give it the force of a modern fable.
Starring Siiri Solalinna and Sophia Heikkilä. Directed by Hanna Bergholm. Written by Ilja Rautsi. Not rated.