DIRECTED BY: Lorcan Finnegan
FEATURING: Imogen Poots, , Jonathan Aris
PLOT: A young couple visit a realtor’s office on a whim and find themselves trapped in an empty, endlessly repeating suburban hellscape.
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: While the concept of suburban repetition has been explored before, Finnegan’s take on it is unceasingly unnerving. Its dark finale proceeds to relieve none of the tension built throughout the dispiriting ordeal.
COMMENTS: Contrary to some rumors I had heard being spread about Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg, it seems that their appearance in two back-to-back Fantasia films (see also The Art of Self-Defense) was mere coincidence. Poots sat down with director (and story-writer) Lorcan Finnegan and thought of Eisenberg as the male lead; the actor was immediately interested. I can see why, too: Vivarium is one of the creepiest and dystopian-est stories I’ve seen in. By the film’s end, I was experiencing what can be best described as “the jibblies”.
Gemma (Imogen), a kindergarten teacher, and her boyfriend Tom (Jesse Eisenberg), a groundskeeper doing odd-jobs at her school, have finally started to think about “settling down.” While a cookie-cutter house in the suburbs isn’t anything like what they want, they decide to have a laugh and follow Martin (an unreal Jonathan Aris), the creepy real estate agent, and visit housing unit number 9 in the new “Yonder” development; a subdivision with the tagline: “Quality homes. Forever.” After a brief tour, Martin disappears, and the couple is left baffled. Their attempts to leave are thwarted by the labyrinthine repetitiveness of the homes, and their car runs out of gas—conveniently, in front of their designated unit. Soon a parcel with food and supplies arrives. Soon after, a parcel with a live infant is left by their curb.
Vivarium opens with an ominous murder of one baby chick by another in the nest before nestling into a cutesy boy-and-girl story. The eccentric and over-eager realtor even makes the opening comedic. But hope collapses quickly as the story’s narrative rut takes over within the first ten minutes. The boy that shows up isn’t human—he reaches a physical age of 5 or 6 by “Day 94”, as marked by the couple on a door frame in their purgatorial domicile. His haunting voice is… modular. He’s given to mimicry, much like the real estate agent. And he screams whenever something does not go exactly according to routine. Tom is the first to break, attempting initially to starve the creature, then taking solace in an ever-deepening hole he’s digging in an attempt to escape. Gemma unwillingly becomes a mother figure to the creature, and seesaws between frustration at the situation and hope at discovering the reason behind their imprisonment.
I may be explaining my enthusiasm poorly here, but I am feeling an unearthly numbness at the moment. Lorcan Finnegan captures us along with the couple, and lets us grope blindly along with them. While there is something of a reveal in the final moments, it’s one of those that raises at least as many questions as it answers, with hints of extraterrestrial and theological oddness along the way. With its near-ceaseless malaise, mitigated only by the occasional flicker of human hope and kindness, Vivarium is like a shot of novocaine to the soul: it will put you under into a minty-green coma of unease.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: