Anyone whose life looks perfectly amazing online is probably faking it, and that’s certainly the case for the family in Hatching. We see the reality of living with a mother (Sophia Heikkilä) who films everything for her blog—“Lovely Everyday Life”—through the eyes of 12-year-old Tinja (Siiri Solalinna), and we don’t like what we see.
The first sign that there’s something unseemly lurking behind that lovely life comes in Hatching’s first scene. After a family photo shoot, a crow bursts into their pastel wonderworld of a living room, smashing wine glasses and the chandelier, and generally introducing havoc into a space that’s been precisely curated to serve as a social-media backdrop rather than somewhere real humans live. When Tinja’s able to capture the bird, she hands it to her mother, whose entire aesthetic is pink, ruffles, and flower crowns—but who doesn’t hesitate in wringing its neck (Director Hanna Bergholm and screenwriter Ilja Rautsi spin a compelling and gorgeously shot tale, but it’s overall not a very subtle one).
Tinja is 12 but looks younger, and her social life is limited to one thing: gymnastics. “Social life” is used very loosely here, because her mother won’t let her hang out with any of the other girls, especially with a big competition on the horizon. “She’s so weird,” a fellow gymnast mutters behind her back, and Tinja knows she’s not wrong. Despite the friendly overtures of a girl who moves in next door, Tinja’s only companionship is her mother, a relationship that’s off on multiple levels: first, there’s mom’s overbearing approach to gymnastics training, which annoys even Tinja’s coach; and then there’s mom’s boyfriend, whose presence is apparently sanctioned by Tinja’s generally oblivious father, but who is still a confusing figure for the girl—especially when she has to endure her mother gushing about how dreamy he is.
Into this roiling vat of tween angst and tension comes the thing that makes Hatching a horror film—one that would play rather nicely on a Black Swan double bill. Realizing the crow that invaded her family’s living room hasn’t died, Tinja follows its agonized screeches to the forest behind their home and discovers... a nest with a lonely egg in it. The egg grows alarmingly large at an alarming rate, and it only takes around 20 minutes for the well-paced Hatching to do what its title promises. Then, we get about an hour to see all the damage the furious (and furiously needy) new life that emerges from it can do.
It would be a bummer to spoil exactly what form that new life takes, but we will say that Hatching draws from themes that address the joys and frustrations that come with motherhood; it also dips into an alarming doppelgänger scenario. Additionally, it uses some spectacularly distressing body horror to illustrate the agonies of puberty—at one point, Tinja’s dad assumes she’s gotten her period for the first time, and takes that as an explanation for her strange behavior—as well as the quest for physical perfection. The latter presents itself in the rail-thin Tinja’s punishing gymnastics sessions and all the other exercise we see her doing in between, plus the fact that she vomits a lot for... reasons, something that will make any eating-disorder survivor shudder a bit.
Though Hatching’s third act doesn’t shower the viewer with many surprises—once we understand what’s in the egg, the trajectory of Tinja’s story is clear—it’s told with such arresting visual style it’s worth it to follow her to the end. The art direction deserves special mention, particularly whoever decided to wrap this dark, grisly tale in the sort of bold wallpaper that might look too busy and garish in real life—but would absolutely make one’s online followers drool with envy.
Hatching arrives in select theaters April 29; it hits video on demand May 17.
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