Hatching (or Pahanhautoja) is Finnish writer/director Hanna Bergholm’s feature debut, a coming-of-age horror that follows a well-trodden path, but also positions us firmly in the here and now – and does so with panache.
Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) is a sweet-natured tween gymnast. We first encounter her via her mum (Sophia Heikkilä)’s Lovely Everyday Life vlog, where Tinja is shown smiling as she practises, stretching and bending, before cuddling up on the family sofa in their beautifully decorated suburban home. But the carefully curated perfection is brutally disrupted by the appearance of a bird, which wreaks destruction as it flaps, terrified, around the room, breaking all manner of delicate glass ornaments. Not to worry: Tinja’s mum knows exactly how to deal with things that don’t suit the image she wants to project. “We can crop it out,” she says, of Tinja’s foot, when it isn’t pointed properly. It turns out her ruthlessness extends to birds – and their necks.
As Tinja struggles to reach the standard required for a big gymnastics competition, we start to see just how pushy her mum really is, and her dad (Jani Volanen) is too weak to help. Her little brother, Matias (Oiva Ollila), only makes things worse, teasing and goading his sister, as younger siblings are wont to do. So when Tinja catches her mum kissing Tero (Reino Nordin), the guy who’s come to repair their chandelier – broken by the bird – it’s all a bit too much. “It can be our secret,” says her mum, making Tinja complicit in the affair. Tinja nods and blinks back tears – then heads out into the forest, where she finds an egg. And now she has a secret of her own…
It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that what hatches is a doppelgänger – because that’s the whole point of the tale. “Alli” is Bertha, Mr Hyde and Frankenstein’s monster: she is Tinja’s rage made flesh. And, try as she might, Tinja can’t control Alli…
Hatching is a stylish, unsettling film, and the cinematography (by Jarkko T. Laine) really cements the disconnect between the lavishly filtered vlog and murky reality. The soundtrack (by Stein Berge Svendsen) is eerie and haunting: it’s discomfiting, and disrupts any sense of harmony, however carefully Tinja’s mum tries to manufacture it. And Solalinna is mesmerising in the lead role: at once innocent and steely, victim and victor.
There are some issues though. The allegory feels a little heavy-handed at times, and some of the imagery is a bit on the nose. Alli’s early incarnations look, well, silly, rather than frightening, and the horror diminishes in intensity over the course of the story, rather than building. The ending comes with a whimper rather than a bang and, because we’re never shown how events impact either on the family or the outside world, the stakes just aren’t high enough.
In the end, Hatching feels like exactly what it is: an imperfect but promising first attempt. I’ll certainly be keen to see what Bergholm comes up with next.