Hatching Review: Girlhood Gets the Horrifying, Hilarious Creature Feature It Deserves

Tjina (Siiri Solalinna) seems to like animals, but they don’t much take to her, from the squawky crow that crashes straight into her house to the chubby new French bulldog next door. Mostly, the rail-thin Finnish tween seems to be seeking connection outside the fraying bonds of her family, including her simpering father (Jani Volanen), annoying (but probably sanest of the bunch) little brother Matias (Oiva Ollila), and her morally empty mother (Sophia Heikkilä). The foursome are the stars of Tjina’s unnamed mother’s blog, hilariously titled “Lovely Everyday Life,” and as Hanna Bergholm’s clever, confounding “Hatching” opens, those lives are about to cease being lovely.

The seemingly lovely, potentially everyday family is shooting a discomfiting new bit for said blog when “Hatching” kicks off, a surreal-ish opening that blends jittery, handheld video for the blog with an off-kilter setting (their home is nearly baroque, with hideous wallpaper and far too many breakable objects for one family). That squawking crow disrupts all that peace, smashing straight into a window and catching Tjina’s attention. When she opens the window to see what’s happened, she unwittingly lets a nightmare — a darkly funny one, to be sure — right inside the already decaying family abode.

The bird isn’t dead — until curious, good-hearted Tjina makes the mistake of handing it off to her mother, who promptly breaks its neck and tells her eldest child to toss it in the trash (organic waste, of course!). Bergholm’s film chronicles all sorts of pains and pleasures of womanhood, from motherhood to girlhood and every experience in between, but it’s also concerned with something else that transcends gender: the realization that adults aren’t infallible. Tjina starts to understand that truism just as she’s also growing into a woman herself, complete with her own misbegotten foray into surrogate motherhood.

When Tjina stumbles into the forest outside her cookie-cutter suburban enclave, she’s shocked to find the crow out of the garbage can and near death in an otherwise peaceful clearing of trees. She’s also near something else: a lovely egg, clearly the product of that ailing bird friend. When Tjina finally dispatches the crow, she also takes it upon herself to take the egg under her own metaphorical wing. Tucking it underneath (and then, as it starts to grow at a prodigious rate, inside of) a massive pink teddy bear on her own bed, Tjina’s tenderness is a far cry from her cracked mother, but even the best of intentions have some surprising implications.

Solalinna, appearing in her first onscreen role, does serious work here, ably flipping between Tjina’s stone-faced demeanor when trapped alongside her wretched family to hair-trigger nerves when attempting to deal with girls her own age to the deep care she shows for her growing new friend. When the egg hatches — after it’s sucked up a bunch of Tjina’s tears and seems all the better for it — Solalinna happily marries all the different aspects of Tjina. She’s overjoyed at having even a massive, nearly feather-less bird-thing as a friend (it’s a wonderful bit of creature design that stuns both Tjina and the audience), terrified at what caring for it will entail, and eager to keep the entire thing from her nosy, weird family.

If only it was that simple! Having a big, bizarre creature hidden in her room would be enough to harry anyone, but Ilja Rautsi’s script layers on complication after complication for Tjina and her new friend, later named Alli, to navigate. Many of these are compelling, like the impending gymnastics competition Tjina’s former ice skater mother is intent on her winning or the revelation that Tjina and Alli have some sort of psychic connection that kicks in during moments of grisly, often funny horror. Others are more blunt, though not without power, like Tjina’s mother’s blossoming affair or Matias’ ratcheting-up wackiness.

Bergholm is skilled at keeping the tension high while finding amusing pockets of pure comedy (whatever Volanen is doing is genius, full stop), but the power of “Hatching” is diluted during a final act that can’t quite thread the needle between empathy and insanity. We already know that Tjina has hatched something crazy and nurtured it through some outsized emotions and adventures, but as that journey becomes more outward and tangible, that insular story grows into something less unwieldy, less exciting. Bergholm and Rautsi have cracked open a wonderfully weird story, but it can’t quite spread its wings the full stretch.

Grade: B

“Hatching” premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. IFC Midnight will release it in select theaters on Friday, April 29.

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