Vivarium, n. An artificial enclosure for keeping or raising living animals. This is an unfamiliar word for a familiar concept: a zoo, a fish tank, a petri dish. We’ve all seen them from the outside but are less familiar with life inside. In Lorcan Finnegan and Garret Shanley’s new film, we become familiar, going through the looking glass into a strange and terrible world.
Imogen Poots plays Gemma and Jesse Eisenberg is Tom. They are a young couple – she a school teacher, he a gardener – looking to buy their first home together. By chance they wander into an estate agent’s office and are accosted by Martin (Jonathan Aris) who, smiling fixedly, offers to take them to a new development where they will find “a house forever”. The ominous note is rung. Instead of running in the opposite direction they shrug and follow. The new development is called Yonder and it is Uncanny Valley: rows of identical pale-green houses and a cloud-filled sky that makes the Toy Story wallpaper look like a Turner painting. Needless to say, things get weird. Gemma and Tom are abandoned; their cries for help are met by a deafening silence and every street leads back to their home at no. 9. A baby appears in a box with the instruction “Raise the child and be released”.
The child grows and Gemma and Tom deteriorate. Poots is exceptional at switching between love and repulsion (reminiscent of Mia Farrow at the close of Rosemary’s Baby), suggesting the two emotions aren’t so far apart. Eisenberg builds a shell and turns inward, his fear and vulnerability plain. The atmosphere grows denser and the unease builds to horror. There is, though, something missing. Despite the general neatness of design and clearly looping narrative, much feels overlooked. A number of plot points seem superfluous and indeed the central conceit is quickly undermined. In short, it makes little sense.
It is an exercise in oddity with two fine actors. Sadly it felt like a Black Mirror episode that was 50% longer and 50% less interesting. Go to the zoo instead.
Vivarium is released digitally on BFI Player, Curzon Home Cinema and other streaming platforms on 27th March 2020. For further information visit here.
Watch the trailer for Vivarium here: