With the film premiering at Cannes Film Festival, along with London Film Festival, back in 2019, who knew that the isolating nature of quirky, sci-fi thriller Vivarium would become so eerily real in 2020…
Directed by Lorcan Finnegan, Vivarium follows first-time buyers Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) as they embark on their search for the perfect house together. Following a discussion with creepy estate agent Martin (Jonathan Aris), the two visit Yonder, a vast new housing development with row upon row of identical green houses. After being shown around Number 9, the two attempt to leave but quickly find themselves driving round in circles, unable to exit the sprawling complex. After spending the night in Number 9, the two find a mysterious baby outside with an ominous message: “raise the child and be released.”
It’s not often that an inventive and original science fiction-esque film comes around, particularly with such an intriguing central critique. With Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone influences, Vivarium is an unpredictable ride which keeps you guessing throughout. Finnegan has taken the long held American dream ideology and twisted it into an unsettling and eerie nightmarish scenario, with a sprinkle of black comedy. Interestingly, the film’s primary themes can be interpreted in a number of different ways; is this a scathing commentary on parenthood, the trappings of consumerism and suburbia, the state of the housing market or merely a parody of our everyday, routine lives?
The bleak tone and outlook, coupled with a confusion over genre conventions, could be too much for some audiences, but the central pairing of Eisenberg and Poots definitely makes this a worthwhile watch. The isolating nature of being confined in such close quarters with the creepy child quickly takes a psychological toll on the couple as they start to unravel. Gemma and Tom’s unique transformations are expertly realised, with Poots eventual unhinged performance just stealing the show. Senan Jennings and Eanna Hardwicke also impress as young and older versions of the ever terrifying ‘boy’, along with Jonathan Aris’ brief but bonkers turn as estate agent Martin.
The unsettling and eerie atmosphere is quickly established when Gemma and Tom first arrive in Yonder, with the overly colourful cinematography coupled with an impossibly bright sun, blue sky and artificial clouds, which instantly sets the tone. As they drive around the complex, the impressive design of row after row of awful identical pastel-green houses insights real dread. Kristian Eidnes’s ominous score also heightens the anxiety of the utterly claustrophobic production. A standout comes in the third act with a particularly bonkers but wonderfully trippy scene as Gemma makes an intriguing discovery.
Vivarium is a bold and uniquely original sophomore outing from director Lorcan Finnegan, brought to life by an impressively acted central pairing and clever production design. While the third act eventually runs out of steam with an odd, slightly underwhelming ending (which is very open to interpretation), the film could have benefited from exploring the intriguing mythology introduced via the weird symbols in the child’s book and TV show. As previously mentioned, if you’re a fan of Black Mirror, this will definitely be one for you.