How a Finnish Horror Film Tapped an All-Star Team to Make an Adorably Gross Creature

The Sundance hit 'Hatching' is now in select theaters and on VOD.

IFC Films
IFC Films
This story was part of our Sundance Film Festival coverage. For more, read about our favorite films from Sundance 2022.

The creature in Hanna Bergholm's debut feature Hatching is somehow both disgusting and rather cute. It emerges from an egg that a young Finnish girl named Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) finds outside her home where her blogger mother has created a perfectly pink and false idea of the perfect family. Tinja stuffs the egg inside of her teddy bear and lets it swell until a hybrid human bird pops out. It vomits slime and has giant eyes, tufts of feathers, and violent claws. Bergholm described the thing, which comes to be known as Alli, to her concept artists as like the visual representation of teenage-dom. "It's kind of smelly and slimy and it's raging to its mother, but it's not bad," Bergholm explains in a Zoom interview before the festival debut. "It just wants attention, and it doesn't know how to be and how to control its emotions."

There's something particularly thrilling about seeing Alli creep and crawl across the screen. In an age when so many horror movies either hide their monsters for the sake of tension or rely on digital effects, Alli feels like a throwback to the '80s. She's a little bit Gremlins, a little bit E.T., and a little bit The Fly. While Tinja works her hands raw practicing a gymnastics routine so as not to incur the wrath of her mother, who plans to livestream the competition to her followers, Alli acts out. For example, when a barking dog keeps Tinja awake, Alli brings her its head.

Hatching originated when Bergholm's film school pal, writer Ilja Rautsi, approached her with an idea: "a boy hatches an evil doppelgänger out of an egg." Bergholm liked the concept but wanted to switch it so a girl was at the center of the story. She wanted to match up the "princess girl" aesthetics she had embraced in her youth with Cronenbergian horror. "I'm actually the kind of child who had these imaginary monsters in my wardrobe," she says. "This relationship of Alli and Tinja is actually kind of my childhood memories." Alli's name, meanwhile, came from a traditional Finnish lullaby.

Knowing that animatronics would be key, Bergholm decided to simply Google "best animatronic designer in the world." That led her to Gustav Hoegen, a veteran of the Star Wars universe as well as other blockbusters like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. According to Bergholm, the timing was perfect. Hoegen was taking a break from the galaxy far, far away after The Rise of Skywalker, and was intrigued by the story and wanted to design a potentially iconic character on a smaller scale. For the prosthetics that would eventually come into play as Alli evolves and starts to mirror her keeper, Bergholm recruited Connor Sullivan, whose work includes Game of Thrones and The Dark Knight.

On set, Bergholm explains that Siiri Solalinna, the young actress who plays Tinja, was initially afraid of the Alli puppet, but then grew to like it as the slow process of puppeteering her made her movements look real. But Bergholm was also insistent that, for as gross as Alli is, she also should be, well, adorable. "I wanted to have big eyes, so it looks very innocent," she says.

That's the delightful trick of Hatching: You're horrified by Alli and also sort of want to nestle her in your arms. It's a successful metaphor for loving a young girl even as she goes through the dark ugliness of puberty. "Tinja is acting as the kind of mother that she would like her mother to be," Bergholm says. "She accepts Alli as Alli is even though it looks disgusting, Tinja says I know you are beautiful. I think that is the greatest love: To accept the other person as they are."

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.