CW: Minor body horror from trailer thumbnail

During Sundance London Film Festival this year, I got to speak with Hanna Bergholm about her debut feature film. This film follows Tinja, a pre-teen gymnast under intense scrutiny by her mother who films everything she does. When Tinja finds an egg in the forest born from the raven her mother killed, this horror-infused drama becomes a fairytale about motherhood and growing up.

Carrie: Absolutely lovely to be speaking with you today about Hatching. I watched it the other day and I was feeling: horrified and wowed and all of the emotions. So this was your feature-length debut, you’ve done short films before, but what was it like upscaling the process to match the increased runtime or was I the same, but you just carry on as it was?

Hanna: In a way, it was the same, but on a bigger scale. What was wonderful about Hatching, was it was a big international production of many countries. We had Finland and Sweden and Latvia and Belgium and Norway, and people from London as well. So, it was actually a joy to work with many people from different countries. And so, yeah, I think it was fun. 

Carrie: You’ve worked [with screenwriter, Ilja Rautsi] together before touching on the same themes, I gathered, about parenthood, like Nightborn. What is it about parenthood that inspires you to write and create your stories with Ilja?

Hanna: Yeah, well Hatching was our first [collaboration]. Hatching really came from one sentence from Ilja, that a boy hatches a doppelganger out [of] an egg. And that was it. And I wanted to change that lead character into a girl, and we developed the story. Because there was ‘hatching’, there is a theme of motherhood and that’s how the mother-daughter relationship came to Hatching. And when we [co-wrote] our new feature Nightborn, after that I became a mother myself. So I realised that motherhood is often described to be ‘bliss’ and you should immediately love your newborn baby, but it doesn’t always go that way. So I really wanted to explore the difficult sides of motherhood. The painful sides of motherhood. 

Carrie: Is that what you thought when you first read the Hatching script and what compelled you to direct it? Or was there something else in that first impression?

Hanna: We actually developed the script together. I started to think if somebody is hatching something, brooding something, it means that she is trying to hide some elements of herself. Some sides of her character and some of her emotions. And then we made it into this twisted relationship of mother and daughter, [where] a mother really wants to fulfil her own unfulfilled dreams for her daughter.

And that is something I wanted to explore.

Carrie: Yeah. And the one thing that I really loved about it was that even though there are all of those really horrifying sequences, at the heart of it, it’s still a very deep and true story about motherhood. Especially the relationship between Tinja and Alli and having that reflect with [Tinja and her] mother. How did you find directing that mother-daughter relationship and keeping that the core of the story? 

Hanna: Yeah I really loved it. In Hatching, it was important to me to tell this [dramatic] story and just use the horror elements to highlight it. Because I think if you’re not loved fully as you are it is horrifying. And then about directing it, we [had] long rehearsals with the actors Sophia Heikkilä, and Siiri Solalinna who was the girl who played Tinja, to find this connection between them. And they’re both so good, it was just a joy to direct them.

Carrie: Yeah. And she was phenomenal in this and it’s notorious that leading child actors with as much skill and talent [as] she has is hard to find. What was it like, that working dynamic between you two? 

Hanna: Yeah, we auditioned 1,200 girls all around Finland just to find her. And she had never acted anywhere before. This was her first time acting. She had never acted even in school plays or anywhere. She had just turned 12, but she was just so naturally talented and it was actually very easy to direct her. But it was very important to have these long rehearsals before that so that she would feel safe with all… because it’s a weird story – 

Carrie: It’s a very vulnerable story, as well.

Hanna: Yes, exactly. So it was very important that she feels safe with all of us. And [that] she’s not really scared, even though is acting scared. So, we always just started crawling on the floor and playing ‘monsters’, including myself. And then, for example, in the shootings, when she was supposed to cry, we had these menthol drops for her eyes to make the tears come off. And then she just said ‘No, no, I just want to try if I can cry just by concentrating. I don’t know if I can do it.’ And then she just concentrated and said that ‘Okay, I can do it’. And then she just started to cry. And after that, every time she was supposed to cry, I just said that ‘Okay, Siiri, now you’re supposed to cry. Do you need a minute – Oh you can cry okay good.’ So, yeah, it was just a joy to work with her.

Carrie: Yeah. And [with the creature] it felt like a combo between puppetry and CGI. Was it pure puppetry or was it –

Hanna: It was pure puppetry, basically.

Carrie: Oh wow! So how was that process of that transition between the puppetry and then eventually Siiri [playing the creature]?

Hanna: So, we, first of all, decided [on] the look of the creature in Finland, with two wonderful concept artists. I was explaining how I wanted the creature to look. Then I really wanted it to be a puppet because I wanted [it to have] a physical presence. So I Googled ‘Who is the best animatronic puppet designer in the world?’ And I found Gustav Hoegen, from London. And he has been in charge of the creatures in Jurassic World and Star Wars. I emailed him and he got excited about the story and collected this wonderful team to make this puppet.

In the shootings, we had five puppeteers around the department moving its body, and Gustav was there moving the facial expressions with remote controls. And in post, we just erased the puppeteers from the shot. So, all you see is what we did live on set, all the facial movements and so on. Just [in] a couple of shots the pupil expands and that was VFX effects. But other than that it was pure puppetry.

Later on we had special effects makeup on an actor, and that was also done by Conor O’Sullivan, from London. He has two Oscar recommendations. He has done Saving Private Ryan and The Dark Night and The Last Dual and Game of Thrones. And so his team made this special effects makeup for us. And then, in the end, the girl’s face changes. So that was a CG effect done by a media VFX house in Belgium. So it was a really big corporation.

Carrie: Yeah, big collaboration process. 

Hanna: Yes!

Carrie: Well, we’re about to wrap up and I have one cheeky little question that’s purely for selfish reasons. How do you see Tinja’s future? I know we can’t spoil it too much, but I was seeing that last shot and I was like, ‘I need to know what happens!’

Hanna: Yeah! … I think that in the end, it’s important that you can stand up fully as you are with all your scars.

Carrie: That is magnificent and a great way to end the interview. Thank you so much, Hanna, for joining me today.

Hanna: Thank you!

Hatching is available to stream on various platforms.

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