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‘Hatching’ (‘Pahanhautoja’): Film Review | Sundance 2022

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‘Hatching’ (‘Pahanhautoja’): Film Review | Sundance 2022

More often than not in classic dark fairy tales, mothers are notable by their absence, frequently making way for sinister stepmothers. By contrast, in Finnish director Hanna Bergholm’s compellingly creepy first feature, Hatching, the syrupy sweet mother is a suffocating presence; her fixation with creating a pristine picture of domestic harmony instead contributes to the birth of a monster. A highly original coming-of-age thriller in which a troubled pre-adolescence sparks a horrifically physical war between the ego and the id, this body-horror nightmare explores what happens to the maternal instinct when love is replaced by an unnatural obsession with perfection.

Premiering in the Sundance festival’s Midnight section ahead of IFC’s April 29 release, this expertly handcrafted film features a bizarro animatronic creature that recalls elements of everything from Alien to Jurassic Park. But the narrative engine is very much tortured human relationships, again demonstrating that some of the most effective elevated horror of late has come from women filmmakers.

Hatching

The Bottom Line

Eggs over uneasy.

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Release date: Friday, April 29
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Midnight)
Cast: Siiri Solalinna, Sophia Heikkilä, Jani Volanen, Oiva Ollila, Reino Nordin
Director: Hanna Bergholm
Screenwriter: Ilja Rautsi; story by Rautsi, Hanna Bergholm


1 hour 27 minutes

Accompanied by soft, distant music from Steig Berge Svensen with vocals both lilting and disquieting, the opening images have DP Jarkko T. Laine’s camera floating over an immaculate community of identical-looking homes, the streets separating them eerily empty aside from a cawing bird.

In one house, 12-year-old gymnast Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) goes through her stretching exercises while her mother (Sophia Heikkilä) flutters about with a camera and selfie stick, shooting scenes for her video blog, “Lovely Everyday Life.” She’s Mary Poppins as a Real Housewife. Dad (Jani Volanen) responds to his work being interrupted with a jolly laugh, and Tinja’s kid brother Matias (Oiva Ollila) is like a beaming mini-me version of his father, albeit with a weird edge.

Production designer Päivi Kettunen’s interiors are all soothing pastels and rose-strewn wallpapers, fully coordinated by costumer Ulrika Sjölin with the family’s outfits. But there’s something vaguely sickly about this carefully manicured environment, something a little off. That soon becomes magnified when a crow comes crashing through a window, causing maximum chaos as it swoops around the living room, sending vases, glassware, lamps and even a chandelier crashing down.

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Tinja eventually captures the feathered intruder, cradling it gently in a throw rug and moving to release it outside. But her mother instead tells her to hand it over, snapping the bird’s neck with a smile and then instructing Tinja to dump it outside in the recycling bin with the organic waste.

Life seems to return to meticulously ordered “normal” soon after. Tinja meets a friendly new neighbor, Reetta (Ida Määttänen), around her age, but the girl’s dog tries to bite her. Tinja’s mom busies herself editing a new intro to her blog, with idyllic slo-mo scenes of the family at play and saccharine images of mother and daughter wearing matching floral crowns right out of Midsommar. When Tinja walks in on her mother kissing the handyman, Tero (Reino Nordin), she explains to her daughter that he’s a “special friend” who fulfils needs that her effete father doesn’t. But she asks Tinja to keep it a secret, “between us girls.”

The rot behind this Stepford construct is evident long before Tinja finds the bird missing from the trash and near death in the woods by the house with a freshly laid egg. Tinja takes the egg home, nestling it in her pink teddy bear to be hatched. The egg grows at an accelerated rate to the size of a boulder, eventually birthing a freakish creature both repulsive and endearingly needy, which Tinja hides from her family under her bed or in her closet.

Meanwhile, Tinja’s mother oversees her progress in gym class at school, where her tryouts for the final competition spot are threatened by the prowess on the beams of Reetta. This of course doesn’t fit with the mother’s painstakingly planned family narrative, in which Tinja already is struggling to play her part. Ilja Rautsi’s screenplay is full of sharp observations of the ways in which reluctance to disappoint a demanding parent can instill crippling fear in a child. That anxiety is written all over the intense features of the young Solalinna, a striking presence in her first screen role.

The less you know about what follows the better, but the hatching of the title is an incident of wonder and mystery, ushering into the story a strange, goopy, unpredictable presence that also provides companionship, even comfort to emotionally isolated, friendless Tinja. As the creature grows, it sheds characteristics of the species from which it came, taking on a more disturbing aspect and developing instincts of its own.

Those uncontrollable instincts seem to stem directly from a psychic connection with Tinja, whose crueler impulses are manifested with shocking brutality, putting everyone from Reetta through Tinja’s mother in danger. When the latter’s extramarital relationship with Tero is threatened, a ferocious clash between mother and daughter ensues.

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Bergholm’s assured visual sense and command of tone are matched by nuanced work from the actors, particularly Solalinna, both aghast and queasily complicit in the creature’s rampage; and Heikkilä — a Scandinavian Elisabeth Moss — who deftly shows the ugly cracks in the mother’s controlled veneer. As the soulful carpenter who represents a bridge to a less stifling existence, with his rustic fixer-upper home and his willingness actually to listen to Tinja, Nordin provides a more grounded contrast to characters bound by the artificial world they’ve built around themselves.

A fascinating window into the psychological and emotional minefield of early puberty and the torn feelings of a vulnerable child watching her darkest instincts play out, Hatching delivers.

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

Hitting the three-quarter-century mark usually means a retirement home, a nursing facility, or if you’re lucky to be blessed with relatively good health and savings to match, living in a gated community in Arizona or Florida.

For Sylvester Stallone, however, it means something else entirely: starring in the first superhero-centered film of his decades-long career in the much-delayed Samaritan. Unfortunately for Stallone and the audience on the other side of the screen, the derivative, turgid, forgettable results won’t get mentioned in a career retrospective, let alone among the ever-expanding list of must-see entries in a genre already well past its peak.

For Stallone, however, it’s better late than never when it involves the superhero genre. Maybe in getting a taste of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) with his walk-on role in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel several years ago, Stallone thought anything Marvel can do, I can do even better (or just as good in the nebulous definition of the word).

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The property Stallone and his team found for him, Samaritan, a little-known graphic novel released by a small, almost negligible, publisher, certainly takes advantage of Stallone’s brute-force physicality and his often underrated talent for near-monosyllabic brooding (e.g., the Rambo series), but too often gives him to little do or say as the lone super-powered survivor, the so-called “Samaritan” of the title, of a lifelong rivalry with his brother, “Nemesis.” Two brothers entered a fire-ravaged building and while both were presumed dead, one brother did survive (Stallone’s Joe Smith, a garbageman by day, an appliance repairman by night).

In the Granite City of screenwriter Bragi F. Schut (Escape Room, Season of the Witch), the United States, and presumably the rest of the world, teeters on economic and political collapse, with a recession spiraling into a depression, steady gigs difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, and the city’s neighborhoods rocked by crime and violence. No one’s safe, not even 13-year-old Sam (Javon Walker), Joe’s neighbor.

When he’s not dodging bullies connected to a gang, he’s falling under the undue influence of Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), a low-rent gang leader with an outsized ego and the conviction that he and only he can take on Nemesis’s mantle and along with that mantle, a hammer “forged in hate,” to orchestrate a Bane-like plan to plunge the city into chaos and become a wealthy power-broker in the process.

Schut’s woefully underwritten script takes a clumsy, haphazard approach to world-building, relying on a two-minute animated sequence to open Samaritan while a naive, worshipful Sam narrates Samaritan and Nemesis’s supposedly tragic, Cain and Abel-inspired backstory. Schut and director Julius Avery (Overlord) clumsily attempt to contrast Sam’s childish belief in messiah-like, superheroic saviors stepping in to save humanity from itself and its own worst excesses, but following that path leads to authoritarianism and fascism (ideas better, more thoroughly explored in Watchmen and The Boys).

While Sam continues to think otherwise, Stallone’s superhero, 25 years past his last, fatal encounter with his presumably deceased brother, obviously believes superheroes are the problem and not the solution (a somewhat reasonable position), but as Samaritan tracks Joe and Sam’s friendship, Sam giving Joe the son he never had, Joe giving Sam the father he lost to street violence well before the film’s opening scene, it gets closer and closer to embracing, if not outright endorsing Sam’s power fantasies, right through a literally and figuratively explosive ending. Might, as always, wins regardless of how righteous or justified the underlying action.

It’s what superhero audiences want, apparently, and what Samaritan uncritically delivers via a woefully under-rendered finale involving not just unconvincing CGI fire effects, but a videogame cut-scene quality Stallone in a late-film flashback sequence that’s meant to be subversively revelatory, but will instead lead to unintentional laughter for anyone who’s managed to sit the entirety of Samaritan’s one-hour and 40-minute running time.

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Samaritan is now streaming worldwide on Prime Video.

Samaritan

Cast
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton
  • Pilou Asbæk

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Matt Shakman Is In Talks To Direct ‘Fantastic Four’

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According to a new report, Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct the upcoming MCU project, Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios has been very hush-hush regarding Fantastic Four to the point where no official announcements have been made other than the film’s release date. No casting news or literally anything other than rumors has been released regarding the project. We know that Fantastic Four is slated for release on November 8th, 2024, and will be a part of Marvel’s Phase 6. There are also rumors that the cast of the new Fantastic Four will be announced at the D23 Expo on September 9th.

Fantastic Four is still over two years from release, and we assume we will hear more news about the project in the coming months. However, the idea of the Fantastic Four has already been introduced into the MCU. John Krasinski played Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The cameo was a huge deal for fans who have been waiting a long time for the Fantastic Four to enter the MCU. When Disney acquired Twenty Century Fox in 2019 we assumed that the Fox Marvel characters would eventually make their way into the MCU. It’s been 3 years and we already have had an X-Men and Fantastic Four cameo – even if they were from another universe.

Deadline is reporting that Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct Fantastic Four. Shakman served as the director for Wandavision and has had an extensive career. He directed two episodes of Game of Thrones and an episode of The Boys, and he had a long stint on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There is nothing official yet, but Deadline’s sources say that Shakman is currently in talks for the job and things are headed in the right direction.

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To be honest, I was a bit more excited when Jon Watts was set to direct. I’m sure Shakman is a good director, but Watts proved he could handle a tentpole superhero film with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Wandavision was good, but Watts’ style would have been perfect for Fantastic Four. The film is probably one of the most anticipated films in Marvel’s upcoming slate films and they need to find the best person they can to direct. Is that Matt Shakman? It could be, but whoever takes the job must realize that Marvel has a lot riding on this movie. The other Fantastic Four films were awful and fans deserve better. Hopefully, Marvel knocks it out of the park as they usually do. You can see for yourself when Fantastic Four hits theaters on November 8th, 2024.

Film Synopsis: One of Marvel’s most iconic families makes it to the big screen: the Fantastic Four.

Source: Deadline

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Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase Star in ‘Zombie Town’ Mystery Teen Romancer (Exclusive)

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Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase have entered Zombie Town, a mystery teen romancer based on author R.L. Stine’s book of the same name.

The indie, now shooting in Ontario, also stars Henry Czerny and co-teen leads Marlon Kazadi and Madi Monroe. The ensemble cast includes Scott Thompson and Bruce McCulloch of the Canadian comedy show Kids in the Hall.

Canadian animator Peter Lepeniotis will direct Zombie Town. Stine’s kid’s book sees a quiet town upended when 12-year-old Mike and his friend, Karen, see a horror movie called Zombie Town and unexpectedly see the title characters leap off the screen and chase them through the theater.

Zombie Town will premiere in U.S. theaters before streaming on Hulu and then ABC Australia in 2023.

“We are delighted to bring the pages of R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town to the screen and equally thrilled to be working with such an exceptional cast and crew on this production. A three-time Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award winner with book sales of over $500 million, R.L. Stine has a phenomenal track record of crafting stories that engage and entertain audiences,” John Gillespie, Trimuse Entertainment founder and executive producer, said in a statement.

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Executive producers are Trimuse Entertainment, Toonz Media Group, Lookout Entertainment, Viva Pictures and Sons of Anarchy actor Kim Coates.  

Paco Alvarez and Mark Holdom of Trimuse negotiated the deal to acquire the rights to Stine’s Zombie Town book.

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