A mother’s work is never done, whether you’re raising a child or a monster. But where that work leads is another thing entirely. Horror has a long and complicated history with motherhood, from classic entries like Psycho (1960) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968), to slasher fare like Friday The 13th (1980), to contemporary essentials like Black Swan (2010), The Babadook (2014), and Hereditary (2018). Hanna Bergholm‘s feature film debut, Hatching, pushes the concept of daughters becoming like their mothers, and their subsequent fight against that, to an extreme.
There is something both alluring and frightening about the protective nature of motherhood, and its potential destructive power, one that brings to mind the old adage, “I brought you into this world. I can take you out of it.” What results from that premise in Belgrom’s film is an unsettling and surprisingly humorous foray into body horror and learned behavior.
In Hatching, we’re introduced to a seemingly perfect suburban family, so perfect that outside of the two children, Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) and Matias (Oiva Ollila), the mother and father are only known as Mother (Sophia Heikkilä) and Father (Jani Volanen), as if to suggest that is in fact the beginning and endpoint of their identities, despite that fact that neither is their role. Mother is a social media influencer, making videos of her perfect familial home-life in a way that is saccharinely sickening, creating an off-putting sense of falseness. Her pastel colored and floral decorated house—and it truly is her house—feels manufactured, a nest made for presentation but not to be lived in, a gingerbread home of sorts that sets the stage for the film’s fairy tale approach.
The illusion of perfection is shattered when a large black bird flies in through the window, wreaking havoc on Mother’s carefully curated environment. When Tinja catches the bird in a towel, nurturing it, Mother takes it from her and snaps the bird’s neck, before telling her daughter to throw it away in the organic waste bin. The absurdity of the moment is emphasized by the mock civility and orchestrated perfection seen only moments before. Later, Tinja checks the waste bin and discovers the bird is gone. She goes into the woods near her house and finds the dying bird along with a single egg, which she brings home and cares for.
While Tinja pantomimes motherly duty with the egg, keeping it hidden in her room, Mother does the same with Tinja—though her pantomime is chilling where her daughter’s is sweet. Mother’s affection and attention is merely a mask for her adoring social media audiences. As she pushes her daughter to not only perform in, but win an impending gymnastics competition, it becomes clear that she only sees Tinja as an extension herself, and a chance to rectify her own failed career as ice skater.
Solalinna and Heikkilä play off each other beautifully with subtle performances that imitate love but dance around the fear the daughter has for her mother, and the barely concealed contempt the mother has for her daughter. Bergholm never misses an opportunity for a close-up shot, lingering on faces and captivated by the way in which they evolve when presented with no information, or trying to get emotions at bay. There is a sense of intimacy Bergholm creates, even when so many of the emotional stakes of the film are obstructed by pleasantries, at least during most of the film’s runtime. When Tinja discovers her mother is having an affair with a local repair man, Tero (Nordin), Mother tasks her with keeping the secret and explaining that this is the first time she’s ever known what it’s felt like to truly love someone. The way in which Tinja’s face falls in that moment, the brutality of realizing what her mother is and what she values, sets the tone for the shocking and admittedly amusing events that follow.
When the egg hatches, what emerges is a monstrous creation that will make any practical-effects loving horror fan giddy. The human-bird hybrid, which Tinja names Alli after a lullaby, is a work of art, an animatronic created by Gustav Hoegen and his team (who worked on Prometheus (2012), Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018), and every Star Wars film since 2015) that ranks among the creations from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and the work of the late Stan Winston. Alli is a full-fledged character in the film, rather than simply a plot device, and as she evolves and becomes more emotionally aware, the more Tinja is forced to resign herself to the responsibilities of early motherhood, something it’s implied that Mother went through as well.
When Alli begins acting on Tinja’s closely guarded emotions, her feelings of rage and jealousy towards her fellow gymnasts, her attention-starved brother, and her frustratingly aloof father, Tinja tries to reject this creature she has hatched, but it has already wet its beak on blood. Hatching is an efficiently told fable, the moral of which is multilayered, making the ending a puzzling emotional experience that both begs for resolution and feels like a confident choice for a first time filmmaker. But question is: Are Tinja’s emotional manifestations through Allie ultimately coming from the same place as Mother’s emotional ties created through her social media persona and followers?
It’s in part a shared desire for freedom, but also a means to take the fictions that previously only existed in their heads and make them a reality. While Hatching is far more empathetic to Tinja than Mother, Bergholm, and strong lead performances, make it evident that both women come to see their respective hatchlings as burdens, things they gave life to that have ultimately taken away the ownership they felt over their lives. Both mother and child are made monstrous as their fairy tale collapses around them and segues into a nightmarish examination of the effects of maternal role-playing.