Horror films that double as allegories have their work cut out for them. Most horror aficionados just want a good jolt or two and having to navigate the symbols and metaphors can be tiresome. Swedish filmmaker Hanna Bergholm’s debut feature announces its intentions right away by showing a perfect family sitting for a group selfie for the mother’s popular housekeeping blog. Everybody is dressed in spotless white or beige and surrounded by home decor that practically glows with the expression of upper mobility. This will be a movie about surfaces and people who move through existence trying to impress other people without actually cultivating an inner life. Then a bird rudely crashes through the window and the mother (Sophia Heikkila), all smiles and crinkly chiffon, picks it up and snaps its neck.
This lack of subtlety will persist throughout the film, thus robbing it of any suspense it might want to build up for the gross parts. The protagonist is 12-year-old daughter Tinja (Siiri Solalinna), an adept but not particularly game gymnast who does everything Mother (she isn’t given a name) insists she does in order to maintain the perfect family image for her blog. Shocked by Mother’s treatment of the bird, Tinja walks through the woods one day pondering life and death and comes upon an egg that seems abandoned and brings it home. Over time, the egg grows to enormous proportions while Tinja hides it from her family. Of course, eventually it hatches and what comes out is pretty disgusting, not to mention needy. The connection between this creature and Tinja is more than just that of hatchling and mother bird. The creature acts out Tinja’s subconscious impulses, including her resentment of her bratty younger brother, her jealousy toward a fellow member of the gymnastics team, and, inevitably, her buried hatred of her mother, who she recognizes as a hypocrite of staggering arrogance—not only does she have another family, but she advertises the fact, as if her domestic talents were just too much for a single brood.
As the creature starts to not only mimic Tinja’s behavior but take on her appearance, the movie’s horror devices kick in without really making much of an impression, mainly because we’ve seen them before utilized to much more dramatic effect. What keeps you watching is not just the creature’s creepy metamorphosis, but Solalinna’s. As Tinja she has a demure innocence that seems almost preternatural, and when she changes, the effect is quite startling.
In Swedish. Opens April 15 in Tokyo at Human Trust Cinema Shibuya (03-5468-5551), Shinjuku Cinema Qualite (03-3352-5645).
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photo (c) 2021 Silva Mysterium, Hobab, Film i Vast