‘Vivarium’ review: surrealist parable about domestic confinement may cut too close to home

Sick of self-isolating? Imogen Poots' creepy sci-fi horror might not be what you need

If wholesome content is the only thing keeping you sane right now, then maybe give Vivarium a miss. On the other hand, self-sabotage can be wonderfully liberating in a time without consequences. So if you’re sat on your arse, twiddling your thumbs, and want a sneak peek at what happens after months of domestic confinement, then boy, have we got the film for you.

Living in a quasi-futuristic version of modern society, a young couple – that’s schoolteacher Gemma (Imogen Poots) and handyman Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) – look to step onto the property ladder. During one house viewing, they find themselves trapped in a mysterious, labyrinthine neighbourhood of identical houses. There’s no exit, no other tenants, and their creepy estate agent has scarpered. After a few days (or maybe months), a small box appears containing supplies and a cooing baby. Without question, the pair take in the child, but when its unnatural growth accelerates and the cute behaviour switches to maniacal screaming, they soon lose patience. Sympathy turns to contempt – and Tom starts digging holes in the garden. What, you’ve not tried it yet?

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Eerily similar to our own coronavirus-induced situation, Vivarium is an intriguing mix of socio-political sci-fi and surrealist horror. Scares come mostly from the small boy, whose intense stare, overly-adult dress sense and slicked back hair make him seem like a villainous version of Alec Baldwin’s Boss Baby. Confounding as often as it intrigues, Irish auteur Lorcan Finnegan’s mystery indie doesn’t forget to thrill, either. Stuffed with white-knuckle suspense, each scene depicts a different way in which adulthood (shared accommodation, childcare, differing opinions) can drive a wedge between two previously-loving partners. There’s even a thinly-veiled metaphor about soulless suburbs, inspired by Eisenberg’s own childhood. Together, he and Poots portray the simmering resentment of ill-matched lovers with relish.

Vivarium
Senan Jennings in ‘Vivarium’. Credit: Vertigo Releasing

Acting-wise, both are on top form. Now 30-something, Eisenberg and Poots have reached a confident mid-point in their careers where they can afford to be choosy about who they work with. It’s clear the two actors enjoy collaborating – and in fact, Vivarium is their second joint effort in a row (The Art Of Self Defence hit cinemas late last year). In addition, Senan Jennings proves a genius find as the ghoulish youngster who terrorises his adopted mum and dad. Not since The Omen’s chubby-cheeked hellraiser has a kid come across so disturbing.

Elsewhere, Vivarium’s strange housing development is beautifully shot, its twisting, turning streets captured in a perennial ‘magic hour’ sunset that casts the characters in an eerie glow. Ominously, the sun-kissed filter makes it feel like a relaxing summer’s evening, but one that never ends – leaving the viewer in a constant state of anticipation for bedtime and the next day at work. It’s a quite unique cinematic experience – and in a time when all the days blend into one, most will find it highly relatable.

Details

  • Director: Lorcan Finnegan
  • Starring: Imogen Poots, Jesse Eisenberg
  • Release date: March 27 (Digital Download)
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