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In Hanna Bergholm's new horror film, a girl's adolescence is 'Hatching'

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

The new horror movie "Hatching" began with a one-sentence idea.

HANNA BERGHOLM: A boy hatches a doppelganger out of an egg.

SCHMITZ: That's director Hanna Bergholm. "Hatching" is her directorial debut. She says when screenwriter Ilja Rautsi brought it to her, her immediate reaction was...

BERGHOLM: Super-cool idea. But I really want to change the lead character into a girl.

SCHMITZ: So the lead character became Tinja, a tween gymnast living a picture-perfect life with her hapless dad, annoying brother and an intimidating social media influencer mother.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HATCHING")

SOPHIA HEIKKILA: (As Aiti, speaking Finnish).

SCHMITZ: One day, Tinja finds a mysterious egg in the woods, which she brings home and nurtures till it hatches. What comes out of the egg is a gooey, slimy creature who becomes Tinja's best friend until it starts causing trouble for her and the people around her. This is a film ultimately about a girl's transformation from childhood to adolescence. When I sat down with director Hanna Bergholm, I asked her to talk about how puberty lends itself so well to a horror movie.

BERGHOLM: We didn't really want to make a horror film where all the horror starts just because the girl has her first period and she reaches puberty. But we wanted her to be in the age when she's starting to change from being a child into a teenager. But her real problems are that her mother is so dominating and doesn't really allow her to be freely herself. So we really wanted to tell about this kind of twisted mother-daughter relationship that happens in the time when the girl is in, kind of preteen.

SCHMITZ: And in some ways, you know, the only thing scarier than the monster in this movie is the mother. Very early on in the film, she breaks an injured bird's neck without any emotion at all. And it sort of sets the tone. And she's very domineering and cold. She forces her daughter to practice gymnastic routines until her hands are bleeding, and she has really high expectations of her daughter. What were you trying to say about relationships between moms and daughters with this character?

BERGHOLM: Well, I really wanted to explore this kind of mother-daughter relationship where the mother kind of sees her daughter as something that belongs to her. And this mother has kind of unfulfilled dreams in her sport career and something. So now she sees her daughter as the opportunity to kind of fulfill her own ambitions. So I really wanted to explore this kind of relationship where she doesn't really see the daughter as a real person but instead of something that is there to fulfill her.

SCHMITZ: Yeah. And the mother is also really obsessed with her image and this idea of perfection. I mean, you see this throughout the film from the design of their house to the constant selfies she takes of her and her family for her blog. Why did you make that part of this film?

BERGHOLM: Well, in kind of very first screenplay draft, we were just telling about the family who is trying to keep up appearances, especially mother, who is trying to keep up appearances. And then I started to think that, what is today's way of keeping up appearances? And I think that is really social media. And then we made the mother into an influencer, and then everything started to kind of click into place. And also, I really wanted to design the whole look of the film to show the mother's world, how everything is so controlled that it's kind of too controlled and too pretty. So it starts to be creepy.

SCHMITZ: It's so controlled that after a while, you start to see the - sort of this ugliness through the creature and then also through the mom's - sort of her behavior, which is just...

BERGHOLM: Yeah.

SCHMITZ: ...Downright scary.

BERGHOLM: Yeah. Well, I think the mother is the real monster. And maybe the monster is the most normal person in the family.

SCHMITZ: Right, because the monster - it's a hatchling. It's a baby that's transforming into something.

BERGHOLM: Yeah. With our wonderful special effects team, we were designing the monsters. So that what I was describing to them - that I want this monster to be kind of like a smelly teenager that's raging to its parents and, at the same time, just wants to be cuddled and loved. And it's kind of all over the place with its emotions. It kind of shows everything that mother doesn't want to see in her daughter. So it's totally contrary to this perfect gymnast girl. And it's just disgusting and slimy and - but it's not all evil.

SCHMITZ: Right. Right. And it's - and then, of course, it makes its own transformation throughout the film. You know, the way that you introduce your characters puts the audience firmly on the side of Tinja, the daughter, who seems to be the only family member left with a moral compass, which, you know, in some ways is how it sort of feels to be an adolescent - that feeling that everyone around you is out of touch with reality and that you're the only normal person in your family. You're going through so many changes and the isolation and awkwardness that goes along with that time of your life. You know, in the United States, we don't see a topic like, you know, puberty and that transformation in films very often. You know, people don't really talk about it too much. Does this feel a little taboo to you at all?

BERGHOLM: Well, I wouldn't say that it's a taboo kind of telling stories about puberty and teenagers. But what I do think is kind of taboo is talking about kind of periods and menstrual blood and all those and slime. And so what I kind of wanted to do in this film was that, in the style of the film, I wanted to put everything that is considered feminine and lovely - kind of roses and pastel colors. And in the middle of this, there is this kind of just bloody and slimy, disgusting thing.

SCHMITZ: So this is your first feature film. It's gotten excellent reviews. Do you think there's more to do here? Will you continue to pursue these kind of uncomfortable topics like you did in this film?

BERGHOLM: Yes, I would say so. We are now - with the same screenwriter, Ilja Rautsi, we are now co-writing our next feature film. And that is also kind of a mother-child story because it's about a mother, a woman who gives birth to her first child. And this woman has very high expectations on how wonderful it will be to be a mother. But when the child is born, she suddenly feels that she can't connect with this baby. And the baby's weird and actually very scary, and she becomes convinced that this is not human. It's something else than human, this baby. And so I really wanted to tell about this difficult and painful side of motherly love in this new film.

SCHMITZ: Thank you very much.

BERGHOLM: Thank you.

SCHMITZ: Hanna Bergholm is the director of the new movie "Hatching." It's in theaters now.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HATCHING")

SIIRI SOLALINNA: (As Tinja, singing in Finnish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.