In Vivarium, Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) and Gemma (Imogen Poots) are on the lookout for a new house and stumble upon an Estate Agency offering them a home in a new district called Yonder. Upon entering the seemingly peaceful and homely area, they are soon drawn into a world of hell where they may never escape.
Vivarium is an intriguing oddity that thrusts its audience into a mystery that is almost indescribable. I can tell you that the pair become trapped in a house with a child that’s not their own – one that may not even be human – but, that is only the beginning. It’s the type of film that must be seen to be believed. Describing the events will not do its level of weirdness any justice. It’s freaky AF.
A Vivarium is a “place for life”, but in this Vivarium, the couple have anything but. The lives they had before are gone. They are now, perhaps, the playthings of otherworldly creatures. They are being watched and mimicked, trapped in a place that poses as a utopia, but is something much more sinister. Their every day lives are monotonous and without change, until Tom discovers a sound beneath the ground that occupies his every day.
Writer-director Lorcan Finnegan keeps his cards close to his chest as he takes his audience down a long and winding road in a world that is made up of endless streets that lead to nowhere. Mystery is effortlessly encapsulated in the film’s visuals, where each house looks the same as the next and every door leads to the nightmarish number 9 that Tom and Gemma were first taken to. It’s an Isaac Ezban movie by way of David Cronenberg, where the overwhelming oddness begs the audience to unpick its every moment. Are we smart enough to piece the puzzle together or will we, also, be trapped in Vivarium’s grip, helpless to escape?
As the isolated couple, Eisenberg and Poots convey their characters with heart-breaking realism. Their performances are grounded and believable, never venturing into a melodramatic territory that is more suited to a soap opera. Tom sets his sights on a hole in the ground and gets through the never-ending days by digging and digging and digging… Gemma becomes increasingly closer to their new “son”, but angrily corrects him every time he calls her “mother”. “He’s not a boy” Tom reminds her; but what is he? Where has he come from? Why is he here? What is the purpose of all this?
The endless questions will be frustrating for some, but those that appreciate a film that wants to challenge its audience, will find a lot to like in Vivarium’s refusal to conform to expectations or spoon-feed its audience answers. It’s an undeniably maddening watch and one that doesn’t end with a neat little bow, so prepare yourself to feel angry to the end if that’s how you begin. Perhaps this idea would have been better suited to a short, because there is a lot of dawdling and a feeling of narrative uncertainty that cannot be escaped. The film is a lengthy sensation rather than an intricate story, so it will certainly be divisive.
Vivarium is as sinister and creepy as it is playful and witty, treading that thin line between hilarity and horror with tremendous ease. It’s a bold and unnerving feature that is more than welcome in this cinematic world that is far too often filled with endless re-hashed remakes and tiresome sequels. Finnegan has arrived onto the scene with a bang and cemented himself as a director to keep a watchful eye on.
VIVARIUM will be released in the UK and Irish cinemas and on digital 27th March 2020. Check out the trailer below.