A cautionary, very grim fairy tale, Finnish director Hannah Bergstrom’s Hatching is a stark nightmare in which a trio of formidable beasts do battle—a diabolically overbearing mother, crippling social media perfection and the gruesome manifestation of both. Smart and creepy, it is an impressive mash-up of social critique, body horror and monster movie, each equally effective.
Picture begins with one of those perfectly rendered opening scenes that seems to tell you everything about what has come before—and what is about to—in its depiction of a picture perfect modern Finnish family shooting one of those patently false family vlogs (we’ve all seen them), here titled “Lovely Everyday Life,” a blonde, beige and bleached vision of a flawlessly loving mother, father and model adolescent son and daughter carousing in Banana Republic style, lounging in their impeccably decorated million dollar plus home, selfie-stick sweet, ready for their close-up.
What lies beneath the familial facade is complex and festering, notably 12-year-old daughter Tinja’s (Siiri Solalinna) crushing pressure to please her self-absorbed mother (Sophia Heikkilä), a narcissistic ice queen pushing the girl to extremes for a spot on the competitive gymnastics team at school. The problem is that Tinja simply isn’t that talented on the parallel bars, which will not be accepted. Apperances, appearances.
Disrupting the manufactured domestic bliss is a boisterous raven that comes crashing through a window and demolishing expensive furnishings, including an Instagram-friendly, precious crystal chandelier. This intrusion of nature into perfect order is resolved with a swiftly broken neck (courtesy of mom, who directs her young daughter to deposit the corpse in the tidy recycle bin).
Yet when the bird’s corpse disappears, Tinja is awakened in the middle of the night and summoned to the forest where she discovers a lone bird’s egg, which she hides in her bedroom for safe keeping and nurturing, a respite from the perfection pressures and loneliness. The egg grows to enormous size before hatching a hideous, bird-like creature that hides out beneath her bed and in her wardrobe. Eventually, the pair develop a twisted symbiosis, the avian monster Tinja’s protector and avenger.
Dad, a classic cuckold, puts up with mom’s sexy handyman boyfriend (Reino Nordin). In a sickening twist, mom confides her new love to her daughter, convincing the child of the adulterous fling’s normalcy. None of this sits well with the entity upstairs, ready to do Tinja’s bidding. Eventually it evolves beyond her control and all hell breaks loose.
Hatching is an impressively made movie and quite creepy in its slimy creature, a practical effect (minus any CGI) and throwback monster as psychologically complex as anyone onscreen. Everything works here, from the wicked mother who eventually fissures (we do learn about a formative episode from her own childhood) to the gleefully duped father unwilling to take up the parenting slack to the unexpected boyfriend, who turns out, briefly, to be a more effective father figure to Tinja than her own (though late in the picture he reacts matter-of-fact to a violent outburst that would have any sane person running for the hills).
Perhaps what is most disturbing are the perverse family dynamics which include extreme manipulations, cathecting innocent children as confidantes to adult transgressions, gleefully infidelity and healthy doses of gaslighting.
Stylistically, Bergstrom nods to both Cronenbergian body terrors and florid, Argento-esque art direction (check out that wallpaper!) in a capable amalgam of theme and style.
Intelligent, frightening and thought-provoking.