Menarche is the transitional rite of passage in a young woman’s life when she first starts to ovulate and to bleed. An egg, and a lot of blood, will also play prominent parts in Hanna Bergholm’s feature debut Hatching (Pahanhautoja), as Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) emerges from childhood into adolescence and from innocence into experience, along the way becoming a different person, forever changed by the process. It is also a monster movie about mothers and daughters, and the intense, sometimes destructive bond between them.
When we first meet Tinja, she is already testing the limits of her body, stretching and straining her limbs at home in practice for a gymnastics event. Her life seems picture-perfect – literally so, given that her mother (Sophia Heikkilä) is filming herself, her husband (Jani Volanen), their younger son Matias (Oiva Ollila) and Tinja for a video to show “an ordinary Finnish family” on her lifestyle blog Lovely Everyday Life. The filming is interrupted when a black bird crashes bloodily into the window, and then gets inside, flapping about and causing destructive havoc, before Tinja traps it and her mother, to Tinja’s horror, snaps its neck.
If their suburban residence is a pink-tinged, gaudy doll’s house, all floral wallpaper and kitschy furnishings with everything in its right place, then it is left a shattered mess by this sudden incursion of a nature which evidently cannot be kept out altogether. While the home may be cleaned up and repaired to look perfect again, much as the mother carefully crops and edits her videos to remove any sign of flaws, nonetheless something fragile has been exposed beneath this family’s veneer of perfection which, like the big scar that the mother incurred in a childhood ice-skating accident, can be covered over but will never go away.
On the cusp of adolescence, Tinja is having her primal encounters with sex and death. The sex comes in the form of the passionate extra-marital affair that she sees her mother having with the handyman Tero (Reino Nordin), hired to remount their bird-broken living-room chandelier, while the death comes in the form of the bird itself which first the mother twists and strangles, and which then – impossibly – comes back to life, so that Tinja has to finish it off herself with a rock. The bird leaves behind an egg which Tinja takes to her bedroom to nurture – and as a different perspective on her family and the world is incubating within Tinja, the egg too is growing, until finally it hatches its grotesque contents as a monstrous double to sweet little Tinja – an aggressive id to her hitherto meek ego.
Even as the confused, transforming Tinja must renegotiate her relationship with her family, and in particular with her cheating, domineering, emotionally brittle mother, the girl finds herself also playing the rôle of imperfect mother to wayward, violent Alli (as she names the fledgling creature), while her effort to keep this other half hidden and (literally) closeted (much as her mother also tries to keep her adultery and her new family secret) leaves signs – vomit, blood on the sheets – that the adults around her (mis?)interpret as unspeakable teen girl problems (menstruation, bulimia). Meanwhile Tinja’s darkest thoughts – her hatred of a neighbour’s dog that bit her, her annoyance at her brother, her jealousy of a rival gymnast at school (Ida Määttänen), her sense of being displaced in her mother’s affections by Temo and his infant child from a previous marriage – are translated by Alli into vicious, even murderous acts, as this hatched chick comes to embody all Tinja’s uncensored teen angst and anger.
Yet if girl and monster are assimilating to each other, Tinja is also conspicuously turning into the film’s real monster, her own mother, who, in the film’s opening words, declares herself “terrible”. A pernicious paragon of neediness, the unhappy mother is passing down her bitterness, her selfishness and her deep scars to her growing daughter, even as she longs to recover and relive her own lost youth and lost promise through Tinja who, already faltering and failing, is on course to repeat her mother’s mistakes. It is a formula for ‘lovely everyday life’ that can only end in horrific dysfunction.
Hatching is set in a bright, oppressively neat, hyperreal suburbia whose adjoining wild woodlands are more misty and liminal – and somewhere on their margins is the house of Temo, solidly founded but still messy and under construction, not unlike the developing mind and body of a teenage girl. These contrasting terrains capture that strange adolescent interzone between nature and nurture. For like Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976), John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps (2000), Karyn Kusama’s Jennifer’s Body (2009), Jonas Alexander Arnby’s When Animals Dream (2014), Joachim Trier’s Thelma (2017), Lisa Brühlmann’s Blue My Mind (2017) and the Adams family’s Hellbender (2021), Bergholm’s film presents a girl’s coming of age in the language of (body) horror, and leaves us to peel the shell off its elaborate Alli-gory and to take a good look at what is addling inside.
strap: Hanna Bergholm’s surreal feature debut is an eggy Alli-gory, using (body) horror to show a fledgling woman’s addled coming of age
© Anton Bitel