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Vivarium (2020) Review

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VivariumIn 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.

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Reviews

Arrow FrightFest 2019 Review: Bliss

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In director Joe Begos’ (The Mind’s Eye) astounding Bliss, a struggling artist called Dezzy (Dora Madison) resorts to taking a highly-addictive, hallucinatory drug called Bliss (a tasty blend of cocaine and DMT) to help get her creative juices flowing. What ensues is a mind-bending and visceral experience; one where the line between reality and fantasy is as hazy as Dezzy’s memories of the night before.

Bliss is what you’d get if Gaspar Noe and Abel Ferrara co-directed a drug-fuelled vampire movie with Kathryn Bigelow over-seeing the whole shoot. It’s what The Addiction would have been if Lili Taylor‘s character had taken a shit-ton of hallucinogens before biting into her victims or if the drugs in Climax turned everyone into blood-thirsty creatures of the night. It’s a real treat.

Hiding behind the Bliss façade of trippy visuals and a nightmarish soundscape is a vampire movie through-and-through. The film tricks you into believing you’re going to see a certain of film, before it shifts 180 degrees and takes you on a completely different journey. Sure, Dezzy takes a ton of drugs, gets addicted and craves the creative high she experienced that first night, but it soon becomes clear that her thirst is not for drugs at all.

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It all begins when Dezzy bumps into Courtney (Tru Collins) and her partner Ronnie (Rhys Wakefield) who exhume coolness with their dark sunglasses and don’t-give-a-fuck, life-is-for-living attitudes a la Near Dark. They tease Dezzy with a life of excess, encouraging her to stay out late and leave her normal life for tomorrow. It’s one of Bliss‘ most risque scenes as the trio embark on a night of drink, drugs and sex against a backdrop flooded with bright and brazen, flashing lights. Get used to this because Bliss is FILLED with visuals that’ll leave your eyes sore and your brain thumping.

The camera is as high as the characters as it weaves in and out of crazed-scenes drenched in blood to the sound of screams of pleasure and pain. It’s a traumatising descent into a hell that is beautifully captured, but there’s nothing here that will leave you desiring the life that Dezzy now has to live with. Her painting may be getting painted – despite her never remembering actually picking up a paintbrush during her nights of unadulterated bliss – but what is being exposed on the canvas is dark in itself, teasing a climax that is going to be more painful than pleasurable.

Bliss is a heavenly mind-fuck. A visceral, hypnotising exploration of the pain that comes with creativity and the lack of it. What Joe Begos has delivered is a semi-autobiographical (…I hope) piece that delves into his own creative struggles, leaving me thankful that he had these conflicts. Without them, we’d not have had this intoxicating, mesmerising and unforgettable slice of psychedelic cinema and that’d be a downer.

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Reviews

FrightFest 2018 Review: Boar

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When fences are knocked down, people go missing and mutilated bodies are found, a small town in the Australian outback begins to believe the rumours are true: a huge boar is on a murderous killing spree.

Boar is a fun, but flawed, monster movie that works entirely as a re-telling of 1984’s Razorback. It’s without the latter film’s more bizarre characters – the Razorback tone feels very Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 – but the story is criminally similar. Both are set in Australia, both have characters searching for missing people and both focus on a giant killer pig.

The best thing about Boar is the cast. John Jarratt and Roger Ward are brilliantly funny as a couple of old drunks who try to be heroes. These golden oldies are hilarious and Boar‘s comedic edge is welcome. There are sure to be more than a few snappy one-liners that’ll give you a giggle, which is better than nothing, because Boar won’t be scaring you out of your skin. In fact, scrap the other characters, because I could have happily watched 90 minutes of just Jarratt and Ward vs. the Boar.

Strongman Nathan Jones returns to the horror scene after playing the antagonist in 2014’s Charlie’s Farm (there’s a neat reminder of that performance in Boar, for those who’ve seen it). He plays the role of Uncle Bernie (not Bern!), a monster of a man who, surely, must be the only match for the huge boar. Standing at a mighty 6 ft 11 himself, he’s brought in to show how huge the beast is, because even he struggles in hand-to-trotter combat. That is a great moment, though. Bill Moseley also shines as always, playing the only American in a town of Aussies.

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If you’ve criticised films in the past for not giving you a good look at the monster, then you’ll be impressed here, because director Chris Sun ensures we get to see plenty of the big pig. Rightly so, because he’s hugely impressive. The film can’t be faulted for it’s great effects – or its humour – but, there’s definitely a spark missing that prevents it from being something relentlessly entertaining.

Maybe it’s because a big pig isn’t particularly scary or the annoying, predictably shaky camera-work that accompanies the killing, but it’s definitely hard to feel any genuine fear or threat from this huge beast. The kills are expectedly messy and gore-hounds will enjoy the mutilated bodies and icky blood effects, but Boar hangs around for a very long time and after 96 minutes you’ll just want it all to end.

Boar is the perfect midnight movie experience; it’s an easy watch and you’ll not have to think too hard. The cast is spot-on and the moments of wit are the film’s strongest aspect. It’s a shame it couldn’t deliver the horror thrills and spills, but Boar is worth a watch for its concept alone. I mean, how many killer pig films do we get these days?

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