Hatching transforms the shell of a strange bird into a nesting doll of malfunction
A mother’s work is never done, whether you’re raising a child or a monster. But where this work leads is another matter altogether. Horror has a long and complicated history with motherhood, classic entries like psychology (1960) and Rosemary’s baby (1968), to slash like Friday 13 (1980), to contemporary essentials like Black Swan (2010), The Babadook (2014), and Hereditary (2018). Hanna Belgrom’s feature debut, Hatchingtakes the concept of daughters becoming like their mothers, and their subsequent struggle against it, to the extreme.
There is something both seductive and frightening about the protective nature of motherhood and its potential destructive power, reminiscent of the old adage, “I brought you into the world.” I can get you out of it. What results from this premise in Belgrom’s film is an unsettling and surprisingly humorous foray into body horror and learned behavior.
In Hatching, we are introduced to a seemingly perfect suburban family, so perfect that apart from the two children, Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) and Matias (Oiva Ollila), the mother and father are known only as Mother (Sophia Heikkilä ) and Father (Jani Volanen), as if to suggest that this is actually the beginning and end point of their identities, despite the fact that neither is their role. Mother is a social media influencer, making videos of her perfect family life in a way that is sickening, creating an off-putting sense of falsehood. Her pastel-colored, flower-decorated house—and it really is her home—seems manufactured, a nest made to be displayed but not to be inhabited, a kind of gingerbread house that sets the stage for the approach to the film’s fairy tale.
The illusion of perfection is shattered when a large black bird flies through the window, wreaking havoc on Mother’s carefully curated surroundings. When Tinja catches the bird in a towel, feeding it, her mother takes it from her and breaks the bird’s neck, before telling her daughter to throw it in the organic trash. The absurdity of the moment is heightened by the false courtesy and orchestrated perfection seen moments before. Later, Tinja checks the trash can and finds that the bird is gone. She goes to the woods near her house and finds the dying bird with a single egg, which she brings home and takes care of.
As Tinja mimes motherly duty with the egg, keeping it hidden in her room, Mother does the same with Tinja – though her pantomime is creepy where her daughter’s is sweet. The mother’s affection and care is just a mask for her social media adoring audience. As she pushes her daughter to not just compete, but win an impending gymnastics competition, it becomes clear that she only sees Tinja as an extension of herself and a chance to rectify her own failed career as an ice skater. .
Solalinna and Heikkilä play off each other beautifully with subtle performances that mimic love but dance around the fear the daughter has for her mother and the barely concealed contempt the mother has for her daughter. Belgrom never misses an opportunity to zoom in, lingering on faces and captivated by how they evolve when presented without information or trying to keep emotion away. There’s a sense of intimacy created by Belgrom, even when so many of the film’s emotional stakes are obstructed by banter, at least for most of the film’s runtime. When Tinja finds out that her mother is having an affair with a local repairman, Tero (Nordin), her mother tasks her with keeping it a secret and explaining that this is the first time she’s known what it’s like to. really love someone. The way Tinja’s face drops 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 hands-on horror fan giddy. The man-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 each star wars film since 2015) which ranks among the creations of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and the work of the late Stan Winston. Alli is a character in her own right in the film, rather than just 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, which implies that Mother crossed over as well.
When Alli begins to act on Tinja’s closely guarded emotions, her feelings of rage and jealousy towards her fellow gymnasts, her attention-hungry brother, and her frustratingly distant father, Tinja tries to reject this creature she hatched, but she has already wet her beak on the blood. Hatching is an efficiently told fable whose moral is multi-layered, making the ending a confusing emotional experience that both demands resolution and feels like a confident choice for a debut filmmaker. But the question is: do Tinja’s emotional manifestations through Allie ultimately come from the same place as Mother’s emotional connections created through her character and her social media followers?
It’s partly a shared desire for freedom, but also a way to take the fictions that previously only existed in their heads and bring them to life. While Hatching is much more empathetic towards Tinja than Mother, Belgrom and strong lead performances, make it clear that both women come to see their respective newborns as burdens, things they brought to life that ultimately took away the property that they felt about their lives. Mother and child are made monstrous as their fairy tale crumbles around them and turns into a nightmarish examination of the effects of maternal role-playing.