Getting a foot on the property ladder has never looked so dark and unnatural as portrayed within this twisty-turning commentary on suburbia and domestication. This film by Lorcan Finnegan is a shrill, bonkers and disquieting experience to behold.
In Vivarium, teacher Gemma (Imogen Poots) and boyfriend Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) are hoping to move in together, so they visit an unassuming estate agency and are led by buttoned-up Martin (Jonathan Aris) to Yonder; a development where every house is perfectly matched. The crazy commences when Gemma and Tom can’t find their way out and are left to carry out an exhaustive test if they ever wish to escape.
As soon as we glimpse the Yonder area with its huge Lion King sun and flawlessly fluffy Toy Story clouds, you’re immediately chuckling at the cartoonish presentation of the housing complex, but it isn’t long till Vivarium spins this equally ordered landscape into a world that even Tim Burton would find too nightmarish. What this sci-fi/horror does so wonderfully is hook you in and provide a sweaty sense of being trapped.
Everything that we and the film’s couple see or do is in a manufactured way; the house isn’t ever home and the maze of streets start off funny then become deeply concerning. The roads echo as if treading on theatre boards and it’s this stage-like atmosphere that demonstrates what a creepy show Gemma and Tom are confined to. This is one hellish game that itches with intriguing visuals.
The clue is in the title; a vivarium is an enclosed area for raising something and in this case, it is two people who are put to the most perverse of tests. Kristian Eidnes Andersen adds reverberating hums, droning buzzes and metallic bell sounds to his score, which truly builds that unsettling, enclosing vibe and makes you 100% realize how wrenching and unsafe this place is.
Vivarium as a serious message isn’t the most original, the boring nature of settling down or becoming normal is something thrillers and the like have achieved before and sure, the main reveal is something you’ll likely predict come the spurt of a certain character, but what this film has going for it are punches of jet-black comedy with cuts that punctuate the horrific hilarity. Alongside that are startling visuals and a third act sequence which boots you down the rabbit-hole into a brilliant trippy sub-level of the narrative.
Imogen Poots is pushed to extremes and brings gusto and tears aplenty to her role. The strain and growing separation are beautifully performed. Jesse Eisenberg like Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind greatly displays a man unhinged by obsessive actions. The mound of mash becomes a mound of dirt as he desperately digs for answers. Together they encapsulate the tensions of something like moving in for the first time with novel complexities. Jonathan Aris resembles a gangly android, his interaction in the start is comical and perfectly played thanks to awkward sentence delivery and off-putting facial reactions that you just know spells doom.
For the most part, you won’t know what will happen and this mystery of horror is a neat trick to play. Colors change, sceneries shift and Finnegan’s story curves to the battiest places imaginable.