This Finnish horror is seriously impressive, thanks to its inventive use of puppetry and special effects, topped with incredible performances.
Finland isn’t really known for its genre cinema. The biggest name to come out of Finland, at least in the film industry, is still Aki Kaurismaki, although Dome Karukoski did dip his toe into the glitzy world of Hollywood with a big budget biopic Tolkien, starring Nicholas Hoult.
But in general, us Finns are known as solitary people and Finland is regularly reported to be one of the happiest, wealthiest countries. Overall, it’s just a really nice place to live. Hatching, Hanna Bergholm’s impressive feature debut, digs underneath that generally perfect surface with some gnarly body horror and particularly impressive practical effects.
The story centres on 12-year-old Tinja (Siiri Solalinna), a gymnast, who’s mother vlogs their entire life on social media. Tinja’s mother is obsessed with perfection and expects and accepts nothing less from anyone in her life, especially Tinja. Tinja finds a bird egg and keeps it hidden, but after she cries while holding the egg and the egg absorbs her tears, something terrifying hatches from it.
Hatching is not a subtle film. The themes aren’t that surprising or anything groundbreaking in themselves, but the execution is exemplary. The human-bird hybrid, later named Alli, is both gorgeous and grotesque. It’s a creature that’s impulsive, feral and dangerous, but also independent and tough. In short, Alli is everything Tinja is not.
Alli, which was an intricate puppet, is a thing of… I’d say beauty, but the beast is ugly and disgusting, as it should be. Tinja can care for Alli the way she yearns to be cared for, but she also wishes she could be as ferocious and fearless as Alli. Alli is a combination of Tinja’s worst fears about herself as well as all her needs.
The performances in Hatching are all phenomenal, but Solalinna is the real star here. She’s effortless as Tinja, portraying her fears, sadness and growing frustration authentically and without any needless hysteria. Equally powerful is Sophia Heikkilä as Tinja’s mother, addicted to sharing her seemingly perfect life online at all times. Both performances are nuanced and believable, bringing a level of authenticity to Hatching, which is at times a little theatrical.
Tinja’s situation is something that’s deeply relatable and universal. Gymnastics, dance and other sports are common hobbies in Finland and children often train from a young age and are encouraged to be competitive. The script, written by Ilja Rautsi, is at times a tad formal; Finnish is a language that’s difficult to write convincingly, but the cast bring a sense of familiarity into their relaxed performances.
Bergholm showcases unflinching vision and great ability to craft genre shocks. The jump scares in Hatching are in danger of getting a little repetitive and while it’s definitely a horror film, Hatching is at its best when it focuses on the relationship between Alli and Tinja. The film veers on being silly and campy but Bergholm always manages to bring the focus back to Tinja and the horror of her psyche.
The film never outstays its welcome and at only 87 minutes, it’s the perfect length. It almost runs out of things to say, but the sheer talent involved carries the film. There’s plenty of arresting imagery and the underlying themes of perfection, eating disorders and the good old horror trope of the evil doppelganger are timeless and fascinating. Hatching is a deeply impressive debut, we can expect great things from Bergholm as well as everyone involved.
Hatching is playing at the Sundance Film Festival London this weekend.