Buying a house sucks, but it has never, ever been as bad as it is in Vivarium. Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots star as a couple looking for a new home. A mysterious real estate agent then takes them to a very, very uniform neighbourhood and strands them there, with no way to leave.
It’s a simple set up from co-writer and director Lorcan Finnegan, but it doesn’t stay that way. Gemma (Poots) and Tom (Eisenberg) go through all the logical steps of navigating their unfortunate predicament, leaving no stone unturned. Sometimes literally. Then, things go from simply creepy to downright disturbing and they continue on that trajectory.
What happens next is something that will 100 per cent be spoiled in a trailer (and is already spoiled on IMDB, so beware) but since the film is still on the festival circuit, we won’t spoil just yet. Let’s just say… there are more actors in this movie and this is a science fiction-driven website.
The inescapability of the situation quickly begins to wear down the couple. Gemma embraces her circumstance as best she can while Tom grows continuously more detached. However, thanks to the sheer scope of their plight, these attitudes flow back and forth between the pair, with each character changing quite a few times over the film. Especially Poots but also Eisenberg get to show lots of range and they do so with gusto.
If the film was just two actors bouncing off each other’s energy, it would have been rather boring. To be fair, Vivarium does have some monotony and repetition in it. How could it not, considering the setting? But the cinematography and production design keep the film vibrant.
The prevailing green colours of the neighbourhood are oddly soothing but also menacing. The sets offer rewards every single time you enter a new room. Whether it’s the one and only channel on TV, the particular prop food Gemma and Tom are forced to eat, or the paintings on the walls, Vivarum is elevated by its visuals. The film also allows for lots of contrasting action as Tom and Gemma try various methods of escape.
Vivarium builds up so much intrigue over the course of the film that it would have been a huge disappointment if there wasn’t a satisfying payoff. Thankfully there is… and there isn’t. The climax of the film is ultra weird and cool. However, once you unpack its meaning, or at least the meaning derived from a first viewing, the film’s journey feels like a long way to go for a point that’s rather direct and basic. That point does land though. Hard. And you will absolutely leave thinking about it.
Finnegan has a winner with Vivarium. It might be a little full of itself but it’s so mysterious, odd, and well-made that it’s worth it.
Vivarium had its U.S. premiere at Fantastic Fest 2019. It does not have a release date.