Review by Luke Bradley
Vivarium is the story of a young couple, played by Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg, who find themselves trapped in a mysteriously endless suburban estate following a house viewing. Soon realising they are the subject of a sick experiment by unseen extra-terrestrial overlords, they resort to their only given means of escaping the labyrinth; raising the ‘baby’ that arrives on their doorstep as their own.
Director Lorcan Finnegan delivers a mostly captivating look at psychological terror, and benefits from doing so in such a unique setting. The symmetrical, uniform aesthetic of the housing estate in which they find themselves trapped is chilling, tapping into classic fears of isolation in the suburbs. The unending maze of green 2-bedroom homes is essentially a character of its own, looming large throughout. Mind-bending sequences of their attempts to escape are the stand-out, lending the viewer the same sense of dread and paranoia that our protagonists endure.
Poots and Eisenberg carry the film excellently, each highlighting different nuances and coping mechanisms symptomatic of their psychological deterioration. Poots in particular is fantastic, and her interplay with their ‘son’ anchors sequences that at times feel a tad too long. It really is their film, although child actor Senan Jennings is also brilliant; never as much as in this film will you absolutely detest a child character. Jennings conveys the creepiness of trying to emulate human behaviour with equally hilarious and bone-chilling results.
Poots and Eisenburg carry the film excellently, each highlighting different nuances and coping mechanisms symptomatic of their psychological deterioration.
The film’s tone can feel erratic at times. Earlier on in the film, Finnegan delights in pointing out the insanity of the concept at hand, doling out plenty of tongue-in-cheek foreshadowing, like ‘quality family homes forever.’ It also doesn’t shy away from poking fun at the film’s creepy characters: one sequence involving the housing estate’s pseudo real estate agent had me in stitches. Pretty quickly afterwards, however, proceedings turn dour, and humour is left to the side in order to delve into the dire consequences of their circumstances. Notable as well is the pacing of the film; Vivarium feels longer than it is, replicating the elongated sense of time the characters have in the labyrinth. Whether this is intentional or not, it does itself no favours.
Vivarium is at its strongest when staying true to its namesake. Focusing on the impact of complete isolation from one’s natural habitat and the psychosis associated with being under observation, the film soars. Some of the excellent tone-setting of the first half is undermined by a sharp turn towards grave seriousness, but Vivarium is still a fascinating character study, complemented well by its brilliant sci-fi/horror twist.
Vivarium will open to Irish audiences on March 27th.