Updated: May 10
In a suburban house in Finland – where the walls are draped in garish, oppressively floral wallpaper, the glass surfaces shine a little too bright, and a dad with a knit vest tied around his neck trims the garden hedges – there’s a monster in the closet.
Like a large, awkward, and very slimy bird-velociraptor-skeleton, it sheds goopy feathers and grows stringy hairs from its prehistoric-looking cranium. It’s got big, big eyes, well-suited for inducing Jurassic Park-esque jump scares, but also for staring deep into your own. It’s in the closet because it has to be, of course; in this house, which looks more like a dollhouse that’s been hit with a supersize beam than something truly meant for humans, there’s no room for ugly, gooey things. So twelve-year-old Tinja (a bright-eyed Siiri Solalinna) hides the monster away.
In Hanna Bergholm’s debut feature, Hatching, the horrors of growing up find physical manifestation in a strange egg, taken home by a young girl and nursed in the stuffing-filled belly of her pink teddy bear until it’s the size of a mini-fridge. When we first meet Tinja, she’s stretching in the living room in a leotard, and the bones of her vertebrae seem to poke through her skin as she contorts her body into shape. A competitive young gymnast feeling the pressure of her tight-lipped, preternaturally smiley mother’s high expectations (Sophia Heikkilä), Tinja rarely has space to feel anything at all – her blogger-slash-social media influencer mother, who films everything with a selfie stick, responds to Tinja’s anxieties about an upcoming gymnastics competition with a placid, dismissively beaming grin. She says to her daughter: “The best way to deal with stress? Win.”
When the film opens with a sharply cawing black crow hurtling its way into this family’s eerily picture-perfect living room, it’s clear that some fowl play (apologies, it had to be done) is about to shatter their ‘nuclear-family-postcard-material’ image of suburban contentedness.
As the injured bird frantically smashes into bits of glass mantelpiece decor, the tinkling chandelier, and other translucent, too-fragile things, we see in Tinja’s wide eyes perhaps her first ever experience of chaos in what must have been a painstakingly curated and controlled childhood. Before the crow rips the whole dollhouse apart, however, Tinja’s mother snaps the bird’s neck between her finely manicured, glittery pink talons, and tells her daughter to dispose of the corpse with the “organic waste” out back. (Whatever you may say about her, at least she’s responsible with the bins.) But the crow’s pained caws continue to reach Tinja’s ears, and she ventures out at night to put it out of its misery. Splattered with its juices and blood – it’s now 100% dead, if it wasn’t before – she finds an egg on the forest floor. Maybe it’s guilt, maybe it’s some nascent nurturing instinct, gained from twelve years of failing to solicit true affection from a too-cold mother – but she feels compelled to bring it home, and nestle it amongst her pillows and stuffed animals as she goes to sleep.
When Tinja eventually finds mama making out with the handyman, and her perpetually sweater-vested father all but meekly shrugs at his wife’s infidelity, she’s at an utter loss to understand how she feels. But this egg in her bedroom, rapidly growing in size, seems to call to her; she embraces it, and her tears fall onto its shell as she weeps. Her emotions in liquified form seep into this strange egg’s membrane – and this is what awakens the creature inside it, clamouring to hatch. It also activates a psychic and physical bond between this young girl and her adopted young bird-monster. When Tinja’s uptight, hyper-controlled life scarcely allows her to even react to her mother’s affair, the monster seems to wreak commensurate havoc to compensate – and the poor neighbour’s bulldog, for example, meets an unsightly end.
A visually arresting, incredibly memorable work of animatronics brought to life by five puppeteers, Hatching’s sticky little creature is a real cinematic marvel: one that feels rare to see on our CGI-saturated screens nowadays. Its spellbinding physical presence – all bone and slime, matted feathers and wet, viscous slobber – captures the rare, dreamy, fairytale-turned-nightmare feel of old children’s books. The film finds a potent visual language in the contrast between its idyllic dollhouse setting, painted in lurid, artificial sunlight, and the squelchy, gloopy mucous that drenches the creature whenever we see it endearingly skulking around dark corners, like it can’t help that it’s mildly terrifying.
Confidently teetering between an earnest goofiness and the nail-biting fear of what truly lies waiting for us as kids in the dark, Hatching is an organic take on the well-worn tropes of coming-of-age and “monstrous girls” seeking to break free. It’s a familiar narrative, but nevertheless a delightfully entertaining and spooky bedtime story spun from the eternally fertile (and eternally fraught) yarn of mothers and daughters needing to be loved. A good egg, indeed.
Where to Watch:
Hatching, a Picturehouse Entertainment release, is exclusively in cinemas Friday 16th September. See where it’s showing near you at https://hatching.film
The film will screen at select shows with descriptive subtitles – sometimes referred to as SDH (subtitles for Deaf and hard-of-hearing), HoH (hard-of-hearing), and captions. Descriptive subtitles transcribe dialogue (e.g. for English-speaking audiences, both English and any other languages) and relevant aspects of the soundtrack, including music and sound effects, attempting to give viewers an equal experience to those who are able to watch films without descriptive subtitles. Descriptive subtitles include speech identifiers and descriptive elements such as [door slamming] and [kettle whistling].
About the Author:
Xuanlin Tham (they/them)
Xuanlin is a Singaporean film critic and curator based in Edinburgh, Scotland. They are passionate about queer, ecofeminist, and more-than-human perspectives in cinema which demand us to forge new solidarities and imagine ways of being in the world differently.
Xuanlin joined the Birds’ Eye View team in June this year as our regional Impact Producer, championing Reclaim the Frame events and films in Glasgow/Edinburgh – contributing to the programming, hosting events, and building audiences.