Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots shine as a couple trapped in a maze of identical homes. A number of eerie sequences possess a nightmarish potency, but as the film crawls to its climax, you can’t help but feel it would’ve benefited from a much leaner runtime – 3/5
Under the current circumstances, Lorcan Finnegan’s Vivarium resonates just a little bit more.
This dark and disturbing tale stars Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots as a young couple – Tom and Gemma – looking to get on the property ladder. However, as soon as they meet with Martin, an unsettling estate agent (performed perfectly by Jonathan Aris), it’s clear that there will be no happy home in their immediate future.
He drives them out to a new development called Yonder in which all the houses look identical. It’s swiftly established that nobody in their right mind would want to live in this suburban house of mirrors, but it’s already too late… Martin has vanished.
Events take a further downward turn from hereon in as the pair are forced into becoming part of a nightmarish nuclear family.
If you’re trapped in the house and feeling sorry for yourself right now, this will urge you to reconsider.
Firstly, it’s worth addressing that both Eisenberg and Poots are terrific in their respective parts. Without a sense of connection between them, Vivarium would’ve fallen apart on arrival, but they’re totally believable in every single moment.
There are elements of horror and sci-fi here in abundance, but at its core, it’s arguably a domestic drama in which a couple faces the trials of life at an alarmingly accelerated rate. Milestones present themselves abruptly in creepy fashion, which really helps fuel a sense of danger that death is just around the bend.
Thematically, this is a film which deals with a range of topics, but one of the most prevalent up for discussion is the pressure of conformity. Gemma takes on the role of the nurturer, but the inner conflict Poots is able to convey is sometimes difficult to watch – in a good way.
Tom is much more stubborn and cold, and it’s this divide which provides the film with a true sense of uneasiness; they have nothing left to lose but each other.
Visually, there are some interesting forces at work here and the set design is certainly worth applauding. However, the film’s concept does feel like it’s stretched beyond its natural lifespan.
Garret Shanley’s screenplay may have benefited better as an episode of a TV series, and comparisons to Black Mirror that have been drawn are justified. It definitely feels longer than it needs to be, and while the story being told aims to make the viewer thoroughly uncomfortable, the repetition may encourage audiences to buckle long before the film’s bleak climax.
At times, Vivarium can be rather terrifying, but, like the food they eat and the home that they’re confined to, the experience of watching the despair play out can be pretty dull sometimes too.