As her first feature film swept across Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, director Hanna Bergholm is no stranger to the strange. Experimenting with thrills, horror and puppetry, Hatching tells the story of a young girl called Tinja (Siiri Solalinna), who finds a strange egg in the woods and takes it home to nurture. Amidst tensions at home and her gymnastic class, Tinja's forest find quickly turns into a monster of her own. FILMHOUNDS caught up with Hanna to find out more about creatures, pre-puberty struggles and family vloggers.
WARNING: This interview contains slight spoilers for Hatching.
What drew you to this story, and why did you want to tell it now?
Well, the story really started from our screenwriter with this one sentence idea, which was that a boy hatches a doppelganger out of an egg. And I just felt that it's such a cool idea. But immediately I said that I wanted to change the character into a girl, because I really miss seeing more stories of women and girls in films. That is something I think is lacking in our film history. So then we really started to develop the story together. For me, if this person is hatching something (and in our language, hatching also means ‘brooding') in my mind, she's kind of trying to hide some elements of her character and some of her emotions — a girl (Tinja) who all the time tries to please her mother, and all the time tries to be a little bit better in order to be enough. And that is something I think on a bigger scale relates to our society. I think women in general often feel that they are forced to do a little bit extra, do a little bit more in order to be accepted in work or in our society.
Do you think that lack of genuine representation is specific to the horror genre, or more to film in general?
I think in film in general, yeah.
Would you say a ‘horror to humanity' pipeline is a good descriptor of your work?
Yeah. In this film, I really wanted to tell both a dramatic story and wanted to tell it in a kind of horror genre way, because for me, I think the core of this film is that Tinja feels that she's not fully loved as she is, and I think that is horrifying. So I wanted to use lots of ways when telling the story.
Was it always going to be a coming of age story? Because there's a really nice framework of uniformity versus individuality through what we see at the gym and at home.
It was always the idea that this young girl was established as the central character, and I wanted her to be about 12. That age when she's not a teenager yet, but she's kind of in between childhood and puberty, just starting to change. So the point in our film is that all the horrors that happened to her don't happen because she reaches puberty, but because of her mother and her relationship with her mother. But at the same time, she is kind of in that age when she's trying to start to change as well. I wanted to show the whole world through her experience because she feels that she doesn't have any other life except what her mother wants her to be. So she has a relationship with her mother, and then she has to really succeed in gymnastics. So I wanted to show this kind of emptiness around her — so we never see other people on the streets, for example. The whole house is so nice. The mother has really decorated it.
There are some really hard-hitting themes disguised behind the screams and the horror. Was it important to you to show that as candidly and directly as possible?
Yeah, and I wanted to make this film in a different way to what directors might normally do. So for example, many times horror lies in a kind of darkness, but I really wanted this to be a very light film. Because the mother doesn't allow any dark secrets in the family, there are no dark shadows and everything is very pretty and clean. But I think this kind of overly perfect world is actually even more terrifying than our kind of disgusting, slimy creature. That's also comforting for the girl.
The mother is such a fantastic character. I loved the fact that she addresses the girl about her affair. Why did you decide to include that?
We really wanted to show how the mother is a type of person who's really unable to understand other people's feelings. And she really sees her daughter as someone who just belongs to her and that is kind of her best friend, that she can rely on for any of her own secrets. And so she kind of gives too big a burden for this.
For the creature itself, how much work had to go into that?
Yeah, it was a lot. So I worked with two wonderful concept artists, but I also wanted an animatronic puppet so it has real physical presence. I googled who is the best animatronic designer in the world, and I found Gustavo. He's been in charge of the creatures in Jurassic World, Prometheus, some of the Star Wars films. In the shoots, we had about five people around the puppet moving its body, and Gustavo was there moving the facial expressions with remote controls. For VFX, we worked with a company from Belgium, YOUmedia. They erased the puppeteers from the shot, so all you see in the film is what we did practically on set. On top of that, we also had special effects makeup on our actors and that was done by Connor Sullivan — he has two Oscar nominations and has worked on The Dark Knight and Game of Thrones. And so he and his team made the special makeup for us and then in the very end part where the girl's face is changing. It was a whole production.
We have a really interesting relationship with families that vlog and capture their lives online over here. How much of the film is a sort of comment on that sort of behaviour?
In our very first version of the script, we didn't have the social media aspect there yet. It was just a mother who wants to keep appearances of a happy family. Then I started to think that today's way of keeping up appearances is really social media. So when we made her into an influencer, the whole style and her character really clicked into place in my mind. So yeah, it is a comment, and I think what the mother in our film is doing is that she's trying desperately to please and to find love. Even though she doesn't seem like it, I think she does. She's not that far off from her daughter in that way, even though she also is trying to please her anonymous viewers and kind of show how perfect everything is in her family. By doing that, she tries to get some love and affection — and I think to some extent that happens in social media itself.
We see a significant chunk of drama through the phone's camera itself. How important is that lens to creating thrills and horror?
Yeah, that was important to me, because I wanted to just show this is how the mother is picturing her family. In many scenes, actually, she's talking to her screen rather than to her daughter. So they're both looking at the screen and she's talking about a whole other audience. I really wanted to use that, and also I wanted to use a lot of mirrors as a cinematic parallel of how the mother and daughter are also mirroring each other in a way.
What's next for you?
Right now I'm writing a new feature film with the same screenwriter as Hatching. It's about similar (ish) themes surrounding mother and child, but from a mother's point of view. It's about a mother who has her first child, but she starts to feel that there's something wrong with the baby. It looks weird and sucks blood from her breasts and it's so demanding that the mother becomes convinced that it's not actually human. It's something else, and it's quite a scary notion about a new mother.