Recommendation: Slower than the trailer sells, but the film will stay with you longer than expected. 6.5/10.
IMDB Synopsis: A young couple looking for the perfect home find themselves trapped in a mysterious labyrinth-like neighborhood of identical houses.
It’s right in the title. Vivarium. Defined as “an enclosure, container, or structure adapted or prepared for keeping animals under seminatural conditions for observation.” Vivarium, is an odd yet intriguing film that places our protagonists squarely in, honestly, a pretty f’d up situation. A surreal, and probably quantum-esque sandbox allows director Lorcan Finnegan the freedom to bend time and space to convey the film’s complex, layered symbolism, while table setting a surreal domestic torment.
Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) are a young couple looking to buy their first home. They stumble on the offices of Yonder, a suburban cookie cutter development. Reticent at first, the couple follow the not-quite-normal salesman to unit 9, a “dream” home situated in a labyrinthine neighborhood of similar houses. When attempting to leave Yonder, the couple discover they cannot, driving for hours, only to end up back at #9. After a night’s sleep, they try and walk out, cutting through yards in a beeline fashion, only to end up exhausted, defeated, and back at #9. In a rash move, Tom sets #9 on fire, only for the house to reappear. Amongst the ashes, like a mutated Phoenix, Gemma finds a box with a baby boy and the words, “Raise this child and be released.”
The bulk of the film is Gemma and Tom raising the unnamed son, trapped in this nightmarish domestic dimension. Provided for, yes, but stuck raising a child who is not quite human: he parrots the parent’s voices and dialogue, unleashed unholy sounding screams, and grows at an unnatural rate. We watch the couple come apart at the seams in real time, passive aggressive behavior replacing the once playful partnership. As in often the case in the real world, the child is the pain point, driving a wedge between the couple. Gemma, despite everyday telling the boy she’s not his mother, clearly has maternal instinct while Tom prefers to spend his time digging a hole in the front yard in a futile attempt at escape. Ultimately, in truly parasitic fashion, the child is raised fully, taking everything from the doomed couple. Their time, their sanity, their relationship, and ultimately their lives.
The concept of being stuck in perfect domesticity is exceptionally thrilling for a millennial audience. The perfect home, manicured yard, and cookie cutter life was post-war idealism at its height, only to become a prison of its own in the twenty-aughts onward. Gemma and Tom are forced into this surreal nightmare, but real world comparables aren’t far off; each scene echoing real world issues.
Individual scenes and setups are steeped in symbolism that shouldn’t be spoiled, giving the film deeper meaning upon reflection. The film does dash toward a crescendo at the end, as expected, but wouldn’t consider it a thriller. More of a slow burn, surreal painting come to life. But for pontification on a modern ill plaguing society, Vivarium is an interest test case and enjoyable, if weird, watch.
Find it on Amazon.
MVP: In essentially a two handed, the edge goes to Imogen Poots.
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Distributor: Vertigo Release date: July 11, 2020 (Amazon)