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Sunday, January 23, 2022

[Sundance Review] ‘Hatching’ Shows Cracks in Perfection With Modern Horror Fairy Tale

The pursuit of perfection often comes with a toll, especially in the realm of horror. Director Hanna Bergholm’s feature debut spins a modern horror fairy tale around it, creating a coming-of-age creature feature born of the pressures of maintaining an idyllic façade. Hatching upends the ideal of maternal instincts and refuses to deliver on expectations.

Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) struggles to measure up to her Mother’s (Sophia Heikkilä) tireless demands of perfection and poise. Mother showcases the family’s picturesque suburban existence through her web blog, “Lovely Everyday Life,” and demands a lot from Tinja. Tinja’s friendless and wants nothing more than to make her Mother happy, despite no support from pushover Father (Jani Volanen) or her spoiled younger brother. The pressures morph into something otherworldly and dangerous when Tinja finds a strange egg in the woods and decides to nurture it at home. It hatches, giving birth to a monstrous thing that irrevocably shatters the picture of perfection.

Siiri Solalinna, Jani Volanen, Reino Nordin and Sophia Heikkila appear in Hatching by Hanna Bergholm.

Päivi Kettunen’s vibrant, pastel production design establishes the fairy tale tone straightaway, one that makes it abundantly clear that suburban perfection is nothing more than fantasy. The arrival of Tinja’s hatchling, an adorably grotesque bird-like thing from animatronic designer/creature fx supervisor Gustav Hoegen threatens to steal the entire film away from young Solalinna. 

Solalinna’s Tinja finds herself at the center of two very different maternal relationships once her monster-baby emerges. As the story progresses, her desire to appease Mother, an icy and flawed woman rendered more irredeemable, runs parallel to caring for a beast that feeds off Tinja’s negative emotions. And other bodily fluids. Tinja’s inhuman offspring provides plenty of gross-out body horror moments.

The more Tinja faces immense pressure from Mother and the more her monstrous orphan evolves, the more the narrative shifts, too. Ilja Rautsi’s screenplay refuses to adhere to a familiar cautionary tale. There are no easy answers, either. Whether this is some bizarre manifestation of repression or something else doesn’t matter in the end, only Tinja’s tumultuous, ever-shifting place in the story. The face of horror drops the fantastical and shifts more firmly into metaphor, interrupting the pacing in the process.

Siiri Solalinna appears in Hatching by Hanna Bergholm.

Bergholm’s bold debut crafts a stunning modern fairy tale about a young girl desperate for love and acceptance from her cold, self-absorbed Mother. It’s at its strongest when it embraces the horror and great creature effects but loses steam as it veers into new terrain that upends traditional fairy tale endings. Solalinna’s complex and often heartbreaking performance ties it all together, even as the narrative loses some focus in the back half.

Bergholm helms an atypical, satirical horror story of nature vs. nurture and complete corruption of idyllic suburban bliss. Her debut is so successful at creating a modern monstrous fairy tale that the attempts to transition into reality lessen its impact, but it’s hard not to fall for Tinja and her ghastly baby. Hatching begins stronger than it finishes, with an engaging maternal nightmare featuring a scene-stealing creature.

IFC Midnight releases Hatching in theaters and VOD on April 29, 2022.


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