Back in March everyone was getting struck down by Covid – no man was spared and that included the director of upcoming (bound to be cult classic) ‘It Hatched‘ – Elvar Gunnarsson.
“It has given me some time to get watching the Criterion channel” he says from his cosy looking home out in Iceland where the winter this year has been particularly harsh. “I can’t really go anywhere anyway so I am just going to binge some shit”.
Nordic Watchlist first heard about Elvar’s debut film ‘It Hatched‘ (not to be confused with Hanna Bergholm’s ‘Hatching‘), after some rave reviews from Austin Film Festival. The film has been described as perfect midnight movie entertainment, as the plot follows an American-Icelandic couple who move to a house in the Icelandic wilderness where the wife suddenly lays a giant egg – which then hatches!
Elvar Gunnarsson: It’s a film about gaslighting in a way – but you can make any film about gaslighting and I really wanted to walk this line of seriousness and silliness
Elvar explains and goes on to reference Japanese movies from the 70s such as the totally bonkers film House.
Elvar Gunnarsson: I think people take cinema so seriously these days, we sort of categorise cinema. This is quality cinema. We call this arthouse cinema, we call this B films, we call this an action film. So on, whatever, whatever, whatever the label it is, you put on it.
But in my opinion, I think we don’t really have to be so anal about it. And you can make what you could call like a quality film without a label, you know?“
Elvar Gunnarsson: This is a film about a woman who lays an egg and a baby comes from the egg and so on. But it’s really a film about bad communication. I mean, that’s the main thread through the film, bad communication, gaslighting.
When we started writing the script, I thought it was way too serious – I mean how serious can you be about a film where a woman lays an egg?
There is no doubt that It Hatched will have a fascinating reaction from its audience – a divide that has already begun with those who have slayed the film and those that have totally got the vibe Elvar was going for.
Elvar Gunnarsson: I mean when you look at House the studio told them to make something like Jaws but instead of having a shark, they should have a house, and they thought it was just an insane idea. But the filmmakers went along with it. A film that was really bad but extremely good at the same time.
What makes the film slightly jarring at the beginning is that isn’t in Icelandic – it’s spoken in American – by Icelandic actors.
Elvar Gunnarsson: We were raised on American television and American pop culture, which had quite an influence on the Icelandic music life and so on. But when you look at American culture from an island in the middle of nowhere, your image of the US gets very skewered.
One of the lead stars is Vivian Olafsdottir, last seen as one of the villains in the brilliant Icelandic crime caper Cop Secret. I wonder how Elvar managed to get his cast to convey what he wanted by getting them to speak another language which makes the film’s tone much lighter.
Elvar Gunnarsson: You are right on that – when it came to the acting and the English itself, I mean, the phrases and so on, these are not phrases that people use in real life. These are phrases that you hear in films and we wanted them acting like they were in an 80s B-movie.
When they deliver those lines in those types of films they are so melodic – almost like they are singing. I think a great example has to be The Room.
Some five star reviews on Letterboxd by people who caught the film at Austin Film Festival have spotted this comparison with [The Room], one describing the film as: “If Tommy Wiseau made an Icelandic horror film”.
In our eyes this is a wonderful compliment – we go on to discuss the time I met Tommy Wiseau at one of his famous screenings of The Room at Prince Charles Cinema. Then our conversation focuses on It Hatched’s lead star Gunnar.
Playing opposite Vivian is Gunnar Christensen who is a bit of an unknown actor and perhaps one of the only unrecognisable faces from the film (which includes a cameo legendary Iceland actress Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir).
Elvar Gunnarsson: Well I was making this film from nothing, for nothing
Elvar is pretty much credited for most of the film’s work, even tackling the musical composition for the film. At the time of filming he was married to Vivian and then Gunnar got onboard with the film as Elvar knew he could probably use him for 60 or so days of shooting.
There is a moment in the film when he begins to act a little crazy and well, that is just him normally apparently
Elvar Gunnarsson: That’s how he behaves every day. And and I thought that that was something that if we could just pump it up a notch, put it up a few levels, then it would become really interesting and something that you don’t see every day in cinema.
We think it is fair to say he does certainly deliver that – he has one catchphrase which will stick with you plus a moment of true horror involving a scene not to dissimilar to The Shining‘s bathtub scene with an extra bit of nightmare fuel.
I wonder where Elvar might have got inspiration for that scene and his answer was a story I was not ready for:
Elvar Gunnarsson: Well, I had this incident. It’s not like a serious incident or anything like that. But I was taking a shower and in a changing room in an Icelandic swimming pool. I mean, we have a lot of swimming pools and it’s a big part of Icelandic culture to go to the swimming pool and everybody pays naked showers together, naked, and which is no big deal.
But this one day I was showering there, and this old man was in the shower. And he had this big smile on his face. He was staring at me and was smiling. So I gave him a smile back and then I noticed that he had no penis. He had no penis! And he couldn’t stop staring into my eyes and smiling.
We think that is certainly enough inspiration to create such a creepy scene!
Elvar begins to discuss how long the film had taken – it all started in 2015 with most of the film being done in 2016 and photography wrapping in 2017. The camera they were using was a difficult one to work with and made the process even tougher. Everything was on the tightest budget – the sound team were based in Serbia and happened to work on A Serbian Film (if you know you know, if you don’t then just don’t).
Not even the Icelandic Film Institute wanted to fund us – they all thought we were insane
Elvar’s determination eventually paid off and It Hatched finally cracked out of its shell and it is certainly going to raise some eyebrows!
It Hatched begins to get international releases over the next few months – stay tuned to see when it is released in the UK
Interview by Alex Minnis