Finland delivers the next great body-horror folktale.
There’s a monster at the center of Finnish director Hanna Bergholm’s uniquely unnerving debut feature, Hatching (Pahanhautoja), and it’s not the brilliantly realized animatronic, avian monster that magically emerges from a gigantic egg, wreaking gruesome havoc wherever it goes. The title of “monster” belongs to a nameless maternal character (Sophia Heikkilä), an ultra-popular lifestyle blogger who sells a commercialized, commodified version of the perfect nuclear family to the devoted, unseen audience that awaits every upload and update on the other side of a screen. Her lifestyle blogging isn’t just popular online, however. It’s also profitable, funding the family’s lifestyle in a seemingly perpetual loop of video blogging, conspicuous consumables purchased from the profits of said video blogging, and more video blogging.
The perfect family, of course, isn’t. Far from it. Behind that flimsy façade, Tinja (Siiri Solalinna), the family’s eldest child, lives in quiet, self-destructive desperation. Emotionally neglected and virtually ignored except when she’s called upon to be an outwardly good, obedient daughter, Tinja joylessly participates in gymnastics, endlessly practicing and pushing herself to deliver the flawless routine necessary to join a competitive team. Every fall, every miscue leads to a spiral of self-doubt, self-hatred, and self-abnegation, making an isolated, lonely Tinja emotionally vulnerable when, moments after dispatching a dying bird with unexpected rage, she recovers sufficiently to save the bird’s egg, bringing it home and nursing it until hatches.
Except the egg doesn’t hatch, at least not right away, and not until it’s grown to massive size. When the egg’s occupant does emerge, it’s like nothing Tinja or the audience was expecting: a feather-and-bone, partially skinned abomination. Created by animatronic effects veteran Gustav Hoegen (Star Wars, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), the monstrous creature not only continues to grow, but metamorphoses from bird to bird-human hybrid and finally into Tinja’s non-verbal, borderline savage doppelgänger that she names Alli. Tinja’s damaged psyche sees the creature not as a threat, but as something, that deserves her protection and her affection. Telepathically connected to Tinja, reflecting, refracting, and at times amplifying her emotionally unstable, fraught state of mind, the doppelgänger begins to act on Tinja’s worst impulses, striking out on anyone Tinja sees as a threat to herself or her family.
Far from a conventional coming-of-age tale, Hatching mixes Cronenbergian body-horror, social and cultural satire, and black comedy-drama into a uniquely mesmerizing work of art. Elevated by uniformly strong performances from a talented cast that, to borrow a phrase already well past its sell-by date, understood the assignment that Bergholm set out for them, the performances tend toward the arch and stylized, heightening the sense that Hatching unfolds in a sidereal world that’s simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. Making her feature debut, Siiri Solalinna delivers a sympathetically nuanced, layered performance as the conflicted Tinja and her ferociously feral doppelgänger.
Hatching is now in limited theatrical release.