Hannah Bergholm’s Finnish horror Hatching (Pahanhautoja) hits select theatres this weekend, after a successful run on 2022’s festival circuit. Hatching was one of my personal favorites at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, where the film celebrated its world premiere. Hatching also boasts a 90% rating on rotten tomatoes despite being a vehicle for a giant animatronic monster that wants to eat babies.
On its face, Hatching is a creature feature with a teenage girl, but as the story unravels it- Well, why not let director Hannah Bergholm explain the plot in her own words.
“…what I wanted, was for it to be totally deformed in every way because it’s [the] opposite of what her mother wants her to be.”
Hannah Bergholm: Hatching is a story about a twelve-year-old girl who tries desperately to please her mother, who is very demanding. Her mother wants her to succeed in gymnastics and the girl is never quite enough for her mother as she has to hide all her of her “disabilities” and all kinds of so-called “bad feelings” from her mother. One day she finds a bird’s egg and takes it home. [She] starts hatching the egg under her pillow, and then finally out of the egg hatches something horrifying.
Jonathan Dehaan for Nightmare on Film Street: It’s such a fun, weird little story. When did you become involved with the film?
Bergholm: The screenwriter, Ilja Rautsi, contacted me and said that he had this one-sentence idea, that a boy hatches a doppelganger out of an egg, and that was all he [had] so far. I said that was a cool idea but I wanted to change the lead character into a girl, and then we started to develop the story from this one sentence
NOFS: I think it was such a great idea to change the lead to a girl, because Hatching is also a grim depiction of motherhood.
Bergholm: Yes, it is and I wanted it to be a girl right on because I felt I had seen many [similar] films but I had never really found very many relatable female lead characters in them and I’m really missing hearing the female stories in film, and that’s why I wanted it to be a story of daughter and mother. And it was really that I started to think of this one sentence that Ilja had, and I started to think that if somebody is hatching something it means that this trying to hide some of her emotions or some sides of her character.
Also, in Hatching, there is this theme of motherhood and growing up and so for me what I wanted to tell in this story is the story of a girl that no matter what she does she’s never quite enough and she’s never really fully accepted. That is also something that I think a lot of women can feel in society. That you always have to try a little bit more in order to be more in work or wherever.
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“We auditioned 1200 girls all around Finland, because it’s such a demanding double role, [before] we found Siiri Solalinna…”
NOFS: It really is a much more complex story than I was expecting. Were you heavily involved in the development of the story with Ilja?
Bergholm: Yes, we wrote the treatment together and then Ilja write the script. We were very much developing the script together and [even] during the shooting we were still kind of figuring out some scenes, so it was really a grey co-work between us.
NOFS: And when did social media get folding into the story, because that’s another brilliant layer you added.
Bergholm: That actually wasn’t in the first draft. It was basically just a story about a mother that tries to keep up the appearance of a happy family and then I started to think “well, what is today’s way of keeping up appearances?” and I think that is very much social media, so I wanted to have social media in the film, and it really started to make sense me, the story of this film and I wanted to design the whole world of the film to look like this mother’s idea of a perfect happy family.
NOFS: All of the performances in Hatching are great, including the young actress at the center of the story. Was it hard to cast that role?
Bergholm: That was really a long process. It took [almost] half a year to find her. We auditioned 1200 girls all around Finland because it’s such a demanding double role. We found Siiri Solalinna, who just turned twelve and she had never acted anywhere before, not even in school plays. She was just a natural talent and just wonderful.
NOFS: Can you talk a little bit about designing the creature that hatches from that giant egg? What it always a bird-type creature when you were envisioning it?
Bergholm: It was already in the script as a bird-like creature because it hatches from a bird’s egg but then I started to design the look of the creature with two concept artists in Finland. What I was describing to them, and what I wanted, was for it to be totally deformed in every way because it’s quite totally opposite of what her mother wants her to be.
She wants her to be this perfect gymnast and it’s very thin, kind of anorexically thin because there is this subtle theme of eating disorders, and it’s totally disgusting and slimy, and all over the place. I described it to them as a smelly teenager that’s raging [at] its parents but still just wants to be loved, so I didn’t want it to be an evil character. I wanted it to have very big eyes so it’s very innocent as well.
“I googled ‘The best animatronic designer in the world’ and I found Gustav Hoegen”
I [also] wanted it to be an animatronic puppet instead of a digital character because I have always admired the physicality of, for example, E.T. or Cronenberg’s films. I really knew that we needed the best possible people to make this creature for us, and so I googled “The best animatronic designer in the world” and I found Gustav Hoegen who has done Star Wars, and Jurassic World, and Prometheus.
So I contacted him and he got excited about coming on board and collected a wonderful team, and [they] created this puppet for us and it was wonderful. And then I have also admired the work of Conor O’Sullivan, who has two Oscar nominations. He’s an SFX makeup designer and he has done Game of Thrones, The Dark Knight, and Saving Private Ryan. I also contacted him, and he also got excited about coming on board and did wonderful work.
NOFS: I always love hearing about FX artists getting excited about a project. They always sound like they’re the giddiest people on set with movies like Hatching.
Bergholm: Yeah, and on set it was really crazy because with the puppet we had 5 puppeteers around it moving the puppet with rods and Gustav was moving the facial expressions with remote controls, so there was a lot going on. And they were so good because basically what you see in the film is what they did on set and what they did was so good.
NOFS: It had to be easier for your young actress as well because she cold interact with it during takes.
Bergholm: It definitely was, although [laughs] she also said- because people were asking “Oh, was it scary to act in a horror film”- she said it was actually a little bit difficult to try and imagine that I am scared because around this creature there five people in funny blue tight costumes moving the puppet. She was just tying to think, “I don’t see them, I don’t see them. I’m trying to be afraid of this puppet” [laughs].
“I had never really found very many relatable female lead characters […] and that’s why I wanted it to be a story of daughter and mother.”
Hannah Bergholm’s Hatching, from IFC Midnight, hits select theatres April 29, and Digital/VOD May 19. Let us know what you thought of this freaky Finish creature feature over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.