This year’s Sundance sensation was ‘Ego (Hatching)’, a modern Finnish horror tale that marks the directorial debut of Hanna Bergholm, who uses an avian creature as a metaphor for repressed emotion and the horrors that motherhood hides irresponsible, but the reason it is at Sitges 2022 is that the central part has one of the most grotesque creations seen on screen this year.
The film follows Tinja (Siiri Solalinna), a twelve-year-old girl who appears to have been raised as an accessory to her mother’s video blog, her younger brother Matias (Oiva Ollila) and her parents, accredited only as mother (Sophia Heikkila) and father (Jani Volanen), manage their entire lives for an online audience, and frequently post videos about their perfect family and their perfect home, for which the whole family lives at the mercy of the mother to maintain the exact illusion that she wants to project.
Ilja Rautsi’s script strips that idea down to its bare essentials by never addressing who the mother’s target audience is, whether she’s broad and profitable or perhaps trying to build a following in a sphere of influence she barely manages to scratch. The important thing is how obsessed with her own fantasy of an ideal life and how he tries to project it to others. Bergholm keeps the blog incognito, and makes that abstraction part of the film’s horror and perspective.
The followers are something completely external, invisible, they shape the life of the mother and, through her, determine how Tinja lives, they are a faceless and formless entity for her, who adores her mother and would do anything to please her. But when a particularly sinister event allows her to see her mother’s cruelty, Tinja brings home an egg from the forest and hides it in her room, and as her mother’s behavior becomes increasingly controlling and oppressive, the egg goes wild. growing to enormous size.
The monster as a metaphor
When it hatches as a monstrosity it is clearly a reflection of everything Tinja could be that her mother would disapprove of. If she is slim and elegant, her “pet” Alli, named after a creepy Finnish lullaby, is misshapen and repulsive, while she is obedient and tractable, the chick is lawless and untamed, if she is neat and tidy, the being is slimy and full of imperfections. It is a representative vision of her rebellion and her chaos within a very controlled life to the extreme.
The allegory becomes clearer and clearer when the girl tries to hide her, as if representing the parts that Tinja fears and hides from her family, but she still consciously nurtures her, secretly feeding her, to let her grow and become more and more terrible, although she can foresee that she is heading to dangerous places , continues to protect her, on the one hand afraid that she will expose herself and provoke her mother’s anger and at the same time, letting her dark part grow, jealousy and resentment.
There would be no problem if this was a starting point for ‘Ego’ to take a course on its own, but the symbolism is so brazen and direct, that it ends up becoming mechanical, predictable and without a particularly meritorious value. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the game is when when Alli encodes problems of teenage girls growing up, for example when she chews and regurgitates food, she emulates Tinja’s bulimia, or when she leaves blood on the sheets her father interprets that she has started menstruating, much to her great shame.
An exaggerated hype
‘Ego’ deals with the themes of the traditional version of doppelganger and the myth of the exchange with a son being replaced, with the difference that here he faces that plot through the legends of Finland. It has virtues, like that section in which the monster is seenwith impressive animatronic effects from supervisor Gustav Hoegen, who has led creature effects teams for Lucasfilm, on the new ‘Star Wars’ trilogy, ‘Han Solo’ and ‘Rogue One’.
Head makeup artist Conor O’Sullivan comes from a similar pedigree, as one half of the Oscar-nominated effects duo that gave Heath Ledger the look of the Joker in The Dark Knight. Together they make Alli visceral, and realistic, with the rare choice of real effects rather than CGI, which may have led to the film being selected so late in Sitges, in a very typical case of exacerbated hype that ends up resulting in something nice but not deserving of disproportionate praise that, in the end, ends up playing more against him.
‘Ego’ is more of a dark fairy tale than a work of horror, and works almost like a coming of age perverse that puts the spotlight on the expectations women face and the direct way they relate to each other from childhood to adulthood. It’s better and scarier than other two-week phenomena like ‘Lamb’, but it still plays in a league of somewhat phony metaphors, where everyone the achievements of its first part are offset by a much more routine second half and predictable of what it promises, even so a sample of unusual genre that fulfills as the classic rarity of Sitges that ends up being forgotten in a year.