Vivarium works as jet-black satire about the pressures of fulfilling roles that have been imposed by a seemingly unanimous understanding of tradition. It’s existentially dour, but these dissatisfied emotions from director Lorcan Finnegan and screenwriter Garret Shanley are supposed to identify how normalized expectations are not so much a failsafe plan for people, but actually a suffocating framework.
When defined, “Vivarium” means an enclosure used on plants or animals for observational or research purposes. For Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) and Gemma (Imogen Poots), it doesn’t take long for them to feel as if they’re being used for an experiment. After casually attending an open house in a suburban community, the young couple are abandoned by their eccentric tour guide Martin (Jonathan Aris) and left in isolation. They try to escape, but the exits have vanished and rows of identical houses have multiplied without an end in sight. They settle into this idea of “ideal” living to survive, even though neither of them are interested in this particular representation of perfection.
Food, as well as other essentials, are left outside of their house one box at a time – presumably by the real estate company – and they’re encouraged to dispose of their waste in this same way. The drop offs and pick ups are made without a peep or glimpse of whoever is controlling this charade. Just when Tom and Gemma have exhausted their plans to escape, a box is delivered to them containing a toddler with a brief note explaining that they’ll find their release after they’ve parented the child.
Vivarium is a fantastic slice of science fiction that keeps you fearfully guessing at a palpitating pace. Eisenberg’s Tom and Poots’ Gemma are more conceptual blank slates than actual characters; allowing audiences to see themselves in this uncontrollable situation. That isn’t to take away from their exceptional performances though, considering that both actors do a great job evolving their desperation in unique ways. Senan Jennings and Eanna Hardwicke are showstoppers as age-appropriate representations of the stranded, deadpan child (Jennings has his voice dubbed over in a way that makes your skin crawl as you nervously laugh), and Jonathan Aris’ brief appearance as the cheery, deceptive realtor does a good job setting the stage for this utterly bizarre premise.
Vivarium also has fun, essentially, being a horror version of the popular social simulator The Sims. Its nods are obvious, from the slightly off-centred cinematography to a sequence where Gemma basically falls through a glitch in the system. It’s an entertaining deviation from how bleak this movie can be.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie