HATCHING Review - Sundance Film Fest
Jessica Scott calls Hatching a queer allegory and says it demonstrates that the titular act of self-creation can be painful and destructive.
Tinja’s mother lives the perfect life. Her house is immaculate, full of white and pink decor that looks like it's straight out of an Instagram influencer’s home furnishings catalog. Her children are adorable and doting. Her husband is silent and supportive, sporting a wide grin and freshly pressed khakis at all times. Her "Lovely Everyday Life" vlog is the picture of domestic bliss. But it’s all a lie. Hatching (or Pahanhautoja in its native Finnish)—the newest creature feature out of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival from director Hanna Bergholm and writer Ilja Rautsi—interrogates that lie, providing a fascinating, heartbreaking, and occasionally disgusting look at mother-daughter relationships. It examines the facades we are born into and the ways we must break them down in order to become our true selves.
Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) is miserable. Her mother (Sophia Heikkilä) only cares about appearances—shooting take after take of fake mother-daughter bonding moments and paying no attention to what her family actually wants or needs. She ignores her son (Oiva Ollila) and husband (Jani Volanen) unless she needs to use them as props in one of her videos. She pushes Tinja past the point of injury so that Tinja can win a gymnastics competition and keep her mother’s blog looking perfect. So, when Tinja finds an egg in the forest—something that belongs only to her, something that she can love and nurture in the way that she needs her mother to love and nurture her—she brings it home. The egg grows enormous and when it hatches, a monstrous creature emerges. Part bird and part human, the creature sees Tinja as its mother. She names it Alli and tries to love it the way a mother should. Alli is violently protective of Tinja, though, and as Alli grows and changes, so too does her bloodthirst.
One of the most intriguing things about Hatching is how open it is to interpretation. The film seems particularly suited for a reading as a queer allegory. Tinja can’t go on pretending to be the picture-perfect daughter with the floral wallpaper and the spotless dresses. She would much rather spend time with her new neighbor Reetta (Ida Määttänen) than participate in the soulless charade of her mother’s vlog. Similarly, Alli can’t deny her true nature, no matter how much Tinja might want her to keep it hidden. Alli continues her physical transition well past the hatching stage, looking less like a bird and more like a feral version of Tinja every day—Solalinna even plays Alli in the last part of the film. Just like Tinja and Alli, queer individuals become their own mothers, giving birth to the versions of themselves that they want or need to be rather than the versions that exists in their parents’ minds.
From Jarkko T. Laine’s gauzy cinematography to Ulrika Sjölin’s cloyingly perfect costumes and Päivi Kettunen’s Instagram-ready production design, Hatching looks behind the curtain of influencer culture and examines how it ties into unhealthy family dynamics. Even if perfection were possible, the film asks, whose definition do we accept? What Tinja’s mother sees as perfect—no dirt, no clutter, no warmth, and no personality—Tinja sees as a hollow shell that she’s trapped inside. To emerge from this gilded egg that suffocates her, she must hatch a new life in the form of Alli. Whether she is fleeing heteronormativity or a mother who wants a doll rather than a daughter, or perhaps both, Tinja has to create her own metamorphosis and emerge as her true self. With its surprising ending, Hatching demonstrates that the titular act of self-creation can be painful and destructive, but it is well worth the struggle to escape someone else’s idea of perfection.
Hatching premieres in theaters and on demand on April 29, 2022 as an IFC Midnight release.