Thanks to director Hanna Bergholm, Hatching compellingly blends body horror with interesting notions about womanhood and maternity in the modern age.
The new generation of body horror pictures has been quite intriguing for the most part. There have been many directors that have found inventive techniques to deliver hard-to-tackle themes, like the inner depths of identity, with bodily modifications. Some films are primarily crafted for delightful yet shocking horror entertainment (Slither, Teeth), but some take an artistic approach to explore the vastness of our inner psyche (Swallow, Possessor). However, one director has stood out from the rest of them, Julia Ducournau – who is my favorite director of this generation. She has followed David Cronenberg’s footsteps and has delivered some of the most clever and compelling horror pictures of the last twenty years in Titane and Raw (which I lovingly call my favorite film of all time). The way she forges these concepts of identity, sexuality, and loneliness with rambunctious horror conventions is just unlike anything I have ever seen before. What’s so fascinating is that with directors like Ducournau, Cronenberg (both father and son), and Carlo Mirabella-Davis, the fiery light of body horror isn’t going to be extinguished any time soon.
A few months after its Sundance 2022 festival premiere, Hanna Bergholm’s feature-length directorial debut, Hatching, arrives with some body horror delights, age-old camp, and intriguing ideas about identity and the complications in raising kids in this social media-runned modern age. The film revolves around an idyllic Finnish family that lives in the suburbs. Mother (Sophia Heikkilä) has a famous lifestyle blog, Lovely Everyday Life, covering her “perfect” family and their way of living. If you haven’t seen a video like this on YouTube before, they are pretty weird (even weirder than some of this film’s body horror aspects) and, at times, uncomfortable, as every happy or positive reaction feels incredibly forced, and in the case of the depiction in this film, it’s top-notch. Mother spends her time recording and demanding a lot from her twelve-year-old gymnast daughter, Tinja (Siiri Solalinna). While the cameras are turned on, everything is “excellent,” and both Father (Jani Volanen) and younger son, Matias (Oiva Ollila), stand there watching in admiration. Yet, once the camera isn’t in their faces, everything is the opposite – you see that everything is just an overly performed act.
None of the family members, except for Tinja, are what they seem. The mother is often berating her children due to making mistakes while recording, the father is caring albeit clueless, and Matias is just a spoiled kid. The battle between the perfectionist persona and fragmented realistic lifestyle develops a key metaphor for maternal relationships and the repression of one’s own feelings. The relationship between the family becomes even more fractured when a series of events come crashing down. After hearing strange noises in the woods near her house, Tinja investigates where they come from. Soon she finds a bird that’s near death, so she decides to end its suffering and care for the egg. As the days keep passing, her maternal instincts kick in. Since she’s the surrogate mother of this egg, Tinja is imprinting on the creature that will arrive, and the egg keeps growing larger by the hour. One day, the egg hatches; the creature is not what you would expect: a human and bird hybrid that ultimately serves as a mirroring of Tinja – the monster one becomes during puberty.
Some of Hatching’s satirical ideas and metaphors about identity and growing up amidst a fractured family may be too on the nose, which causes a bit of injury to its further analysis, most of its horror elements work due to Hanna Bergholm’s directorial execution and the performances, as well as excellent work from the makeup and practical effect teams. In addition, there are some thematic resemblances between this and Valdimar Jóhannsson’s Lamb; however, they are better executed here, and it’s far bloodier and more monstrous due to Hatching being a creature feature. The horrors of its narrative come in different ways. Of course, the body horror aspects of it all by Conor O’Sullivan are effective and beautifully crafted, as well as the fantastic animatronics by Gustav Hoegen, who has worked in several pictures like Prometheus and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It doesn’t go too crazy or exaggerated, either. Nonetheless, Rautsi’s script pulls most of its psychological horrors, even if the ending leaves more to be desired.
It understands how to pull its audience into this emotionally draining fight in a mother-daughter relationship. Tinja tries to be a better and more caring mother to the creature, albeit it goes wrong immediately. This reflection was building up during its first few minutes, where we saw the state of this family’s chemistry. The balance between the two, as well as its dedicated performances (particularly Solalinna and Heikkilä), helps Hatching to be quite compelling. Its themes of coping with our lives and trying to change them to appeal to someone else’s visions cause you to feel uneasy due to the decisions made by these characters. The mother is fueled by narcissism and avarice just to put on an appearance of perfection and make her children overcome the burdens she had in life – overcome her failures. The film has its limitations as it reaches its conclusion, but they aren’t deal-breakers. Hatching’s ideas about motherhood and womanhood are thoroughly fascinating for the most part. The horrors of its story can be applied to some of our realities; most probably, we have all heard stories about these struggles. Coming-of-age and body horror is a combination that can be a lethal weapon in the hands of the right person, and Hanna Bergholm has the gift to do so.
Hatching is now available to watch on digital in the US, and will be released in cinemas in the UK on September 16, 2022.