SAN ANTONIO — The 90 minutes that make up Hanna Bergholm’s alluring feature debut, “Hatching,” move quickly. Very quickly. Quick enough to make the mood of any one scene evaporate before it can be fully grasped, as if the movie were suggesting points of no return are more easily discernible when we’re looking back at them over our shoulder. Or, if you’d rather, as if sympathy fashioned itself out of a foundational terror’s bones, blood and guts as quickly as “Hatching’s” horrific central beastie grows up.
In this movie about a young girl discovering isolation within the widening cracks of her ostensibly picturesque life, either comparison works. Even if neither may be entirely intentional.
The young girl in question is prim-and-proper Tinja (Siiri Solalinna, acting in her screen debut). For her, the comforts of sleek suburban life last all of one opening scene, punctuated by the break-in of an angsty crow that proceeds to make a mess out of the very same things which lend this family and its home – complete with pastel-colored wallpaper and Roman sculptures in the living room – an air of pompous affluence. Nowhere is the metaphorical angle of Ilja Rautsi’s screenplay more assertive and more potent than this early scene.
That’s also what makes it frustrating that “Hatching” struggles to leverage its tonal commitment and narrative simplicity into a cohesive message about the freakish ties that bind families together; as Tinja caresses a massive egg while circumventing the lack of a genuine support system in her own life, the allegory should feel obvious. Too often, however, lapses in believability get in the way.
Reaching for a middle ground between Ducournau and Cronenberg but landing – comfortably, for what it’s worth – closer to generic creature-feature freakout, “Hatching” is a Finnish-language skewering of obsession with appearance, and is most successful in its attempts to incriminate the viewer at the same time as it’s thrilling them. Tinja’s mother (Sophia Heikkilä, uncannily channeling Elisabeth Moss in both appearance and subdued madness) is constantly livestreaming a picture-perfect façade of her household while clamping down on the perfectionist demands for Tinja’s gymnastics routine; her annoying brother is never not imitating Dad’s tucked-in-polo wardrobe; and there’s no way the picture’s visual design, from the heavy mists of the backyard forest to the total-white of a hospital’s halls, isn’t at least a little self-aware about the thin boundary separating artifice and anarchy.
Most tellingly, the central madness of “Hatching” hinges on the trajectory of a metamorphosis reflecting glints of an ethos about ego to the same undeniable extent that it ignores the need to explain itself. That’s just fine, at least for a bit as Bergholm draws forth sadness from the mystery, especially in earlier scenes when Tinja embraces her icky new friend/adoptive companion/creature from hell (if it sounds like I’m tip-toeing around the movie’s most delightful element, it’s because I am). And the way the film weaponizes its pacing and runtime against ideas of innocence lost and new identities gained is a borderline stroke of aesthetic genius.
But the movie increasingly takes its incredulity for granted, and mood occasionally succumbs to our desperate smoothing-out of “Hatching’s” knotted take on intergenerational selfishness. Still, enough of these 90 minutes function generally as a tale of adolescent angst externalized to such a fantastical degree that “Hatching” could be considered the bloody, dark-hearted ying to “Turning Red’s” buoyant, sweet-natured yang.
At the same time, this is a fairy tale whose magic words for the viewer are “Don’t think too hard.” This review has admittedly probably already failed in that regard, because while Bergholm clearly has a devilish touch for grotesquerie, it’s unclear what we should make of it all. Is this a film primarily about the perils of motherhood? The ferocity of youth? The terrors of rivalry? All of these things…none of them? There’s much metaphorical slack in “Hatching,” and you eventually come to suspect the work-in-progress nature of that title extends to the screenplay. The more delicate something looks, the likelier it is to be chewed up and spat out—and Bergholm’s film is more inventive at showing that carnage than it is incisive about the ultimate implications.
"Hatching" is not rated. It's now screening in some San Antonio theaters. Runtime: 1 hour, 26 minutes.
Directed by Hanna Bergholm, written by Ilja Rautsi
Starring: Siiri Solalinna, Sophia Heikkilä, Jani Volanen, Reino Nordin
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