Beware the evils of suburbia. Vivarium turns the idyllic dream of homeownership into an existential nightmare. Where the joy of having a child becomes an instrument of torture and oppression. Irish director Lorcan Finnegan loads his psychological thriller with metaphors. His approach is initially intriguing. The film then drags considerably to a humdrum climax. Vivarium is a filler episode of Black Mirror pounded into a feature film.
Gemma (Imogen Poots) is a kindhearted schoolteacher. Her boyfriend, Tom (Jesse Eisenberg), is an equally good-natured gardener. The young couple decide to purchase a home together. They are convinced by Martin (Jonathan Aris), a truly bizarre real estate agent, to visit an exciting new development called Yonder. Gemma and Tom follow Martin to a cookie-cutter neighborhood of virid colonial homes, artificial grass, and picket fences.
When Martin disappears during his presentation of house nine, Gemma and Tom are eager to leave. They soon learn that escaping Yonder is impossible. No matter where they turn or how far they drive, nine is their eventual destination. Cardboard boxes of food appear at their doorstep. Followed by an even more stunning surprise, a baby boy.
Everything about Yonder is mundane. Their food is tasteless. The clouds are mirror images of each other. The story progresses insidiously when the boy (Eanna Hardwicke) grows at an alarming rate. He shrieks for food and attention. He mimics and observes their every move. Gemma and Tom are terrified of the creature. When Tom becomes violent towards the boy, Gemma instinctively protects “it.” Her efforts to uncover their captors and the boy’s mystery takes a dark turn.
Vivarium is an apt title for the film. The couple are caged animals under observation. Forced to foster a child with no love or compassion. Lorcan Finnegan (Without Name) opens the film with a deadly scene from nature. Gemma explains to a student that nature can be cruel. But the end result is neither heartless or unfair. It is just the way of the world. Being trapped in Yonder attempts to frame this parallel through horror and sci-fi elements. Finnegan’s view of suburban life is clearly understood. My interest in the story and their predicament waned. His premise simply runs thin.
A major issue is the behavior of the couple towards the boy. Vivarium doesn’t give humanity enough credit or a backbone. It is clearly alien and a threat. That is obvious to the protagonists and audience. Gemma and Tom are too easily cowed. They are not mindless lab rats, or purely instinctual. The situation could not endlessly be dictated by fear of their unseen malefactors. A point of reprisal towards the boy would eventually have been reached by both characters. You get the warden’s attention by threatening the guards.
Alas the horror of living in a three bedroom, two bathroom house. Scarier still with a good-looking companion and freak show child; a tongue in cheek response to Lorcan Finnegan’s dystopian suburbia. Vivarium lost me after the second act. I expected more from my caged rats. Vivarium is a production of XYZ Films, Fantastic Films, and Screen Ireland. It will be released on demand March 27th from Saban Films.