Lest you need any further reminder that it can be a little stifling and claustrophobic to remain sheltered in-place in your suburban home and forced to interact with the children you’re not used to having underfoot all day/every day, Saban Films is pleased to offer Vivarium. Obviously the studio had no clue that some of the film’s portrayed “horrors” would become de rigueur by the time this thing saw the light of day, but here we are. Truth is, Vivarium might actually have emerged as a halfway-decent thriller as a result, but instead it gets derailed by a frustratingly nonsensical and pretentious script and yawn-worthy themes. In the end, it winds up being nothing more than an excuse for a pity party for stars Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg, who deserve much, much better.
The pair star as Gemma and Tom, a young unmarried couple who are house-hunting. When they walk into the real estate office of the creepily odd Martin (Jonathan Aris), he tells them of Yonder, a hot new development that is all the rage. Not impressed by the propaganda but also not wanting to seem rude, they agree to take a quick drive and see the property. Turns out, Yonder is the ultimate in cookie-cutter subdivisions—row after row (after row) of identical bland, pea-green houses. Then, when they wrap up their tour, they discover Martin has vanished, leaving them trapped in a neighborhood that doesn’t seem to end. After spending hours trying to drive away, their car eventually runs out of gas right in front of the same house Martin showed them.
Sounds like a halfway-decent episode of The Twilight Zone, right? Maybe. Particularly when Tom burns the house to the ground one night only to find it good as new in the morning. Or when boxes of food and supplies start appearing out of thin air. It’s not until one of the boxes includes a newborn human baby inside (with the note “Raise the child and be released”) that things start getting too wonky for their own good. And that’s before the little boy ages ten years in three months. And spends hours watching Rorschach-like test patterns on the family TV. And screams the most blood-curdling scream whenever he wants his Corn Flakes. Forget Kansas, we’re not in any world anyone would ever want to be in anymore.
Throughout the film’s relatively short runtime (90 minutes, plus credits), it’s damn near impossible to shake the feeling that director Lorcan Finnegan is far more pleased with his film than any audience would ever be. It’s artsy in typical indie movie fashion—the kind that practically invites hipster cinephiles to hold conventions to talk about its meanings and motifs and symbolism (a la 2016’s The Lobster). But when you sit back, it’s clear that Vivarium isn’t obtuse about anything at all. (We’re becoming suburban drones. Our kids are being raised like they’re straight out of a Black Mirror episode. Etc.) It just picks a needlessly esoteric route to get there.