Vivarium Full Movie Review – imagine the horror of being trapped inside your own home. What a concept! Though its atmosphere of delirious claustrophobia may now cut a little too close to the bone, the nightmares director Lorcan Finnegan wants to conjure are of an entirely different nature.
There’s no pandemic here – only parenthood, suburbia, and the slow asphyxiation of heteronormative society.
Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) are a young couple in the market to buy their first home. Already, there’s an invisible force at their backs. “Don’t get left behind,” a friend warns. Prices are on the rise. It makes them vulnerable to the eerie, steady insistence of Martin (Jonathan Aris), a housing agent who can’t wait to show them the new Yonder development. With a Cheshire Cat-grin and the stiff walk of a video-game character, he guides them through one of the show homes. Then he disappears without a trace. Gemma and Tom hop in the car, but end up driving in circles. The truth is, there’s no leaving Yonder. When a box turns up with a baby inside of it, the reality of their new imprisonment sets in. “Raise the child, and you’ll be freed,” a note inside reads.
Yonder is a sea of identikit, hospital-green homes – each with their own small garden. The sky is always bright and clear, patterned with regular, perfectly formed clouds. It’s as if the works of Tim Burton, René Magritte and David Lynch have all collided into one. The house itself is neat, but soulless. Food no longer has any taste. And then there’s the child, who grows at an abnormal rate and screams like a harpy every time he wants something. Whenever he speaks, it’s a disquieting mix of both child and adult voices. Tom refuses to call him anything other than “it”. This is not a human being in his eyes.
It’s implied he’s the creation of unknown, unseeable parasites. The film even opens with footage of a baby cuckoo invading another bird’s nest and kicking its inhabitants out. When Tom puts his ear to the ground, he’s convinced he can hear these aliens chattering. It’s the same sound that blasts out of the TV. But Finnegan, alongside screenwriter Garret Shanley, makes sure Vivarium never reveals its hand. The relief that comes from revelations and explanations is replaced with a slow, strange dread. It’s not an easy film to watch, but it is a mesmerising one.
These pernicious forces, then, might as well represent any sort of outside pressure to conform and uphold the system. Unconsciously, Gemma and Tom start to act out gendered roles: the man becomes fixated on his work (he’s digging a hole he thinks will lead to freedom), while the woman feels increasingly responsible for the thing that keeps calling her mother. Tom and Gemma grow hostile towards each other, then violent. Eisenberg allows Tom’s frustration to become a poison coursing through his body, breaking both his spirit and his strength. Poots, however, delivers the stronger performance. She’s weariness itself, with dark bags under her eyes and dry, frizzed-out hair. But there’s also a resilience. When she finds something to smile about, the film takes on a sudden and welcome tenderness. There’s a bleak sense of humour here as well, even if it’s just acknowledging the absurdity of their situation – and perhaps, in turn, our own.