In The Family Way
Tripwire’s senior editor Andrew Colman reviews new horror drama Vivarium, out to watch from 27 March…
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots, Jonathan Aris
For such a slight, low-key feature, Vivarium certainly stays with you after the credits roll. Essentially a two-hander bottle story starring Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots as a hapless young middle-class couple, Vivarium’s portrayal of the ersatz suburban hell they are entrapped in never relents in its precision antiseptic torture of the doomed leads.
After happening on a brand new estate agent’s office in their small town, they are persuaded by a particularly odd assistant (Jonathan Aris) to visit a new housing development called Yonder. Several minutes after arriving at the pristine show-home the agent vanishes, leaving the duo unaware that they are now the subjects of a project that neither they nor the audience ever learns about. Have they been abducted by aliens? None of this is made clear. As their banal horror unfolds, their attempts to escape are mercilessly and seamlessly thwarted in what appears to be a surreally hermetic pod of computer generated streets and houses, all of them completely indistinguishable and stretching into infinity. After resigning themselves to their predicament, they are given a very needy and sinister “son” (like everything else, he is empathy-free, and arrives in a package with a note) by their unseen tormentors. As a consequence they slowly revert to primeval type, with Eisenberg’s Tom taking to digging a hole at the front of the house, while Poots’ Gemma attempts to reason with their evil, constantly monitoring surrogate.
As cinema releases go, this is certainly off-the-wall territory. One could aver that this is the sort of story that would fit into Inside Number 9’s remit – there’s an ironic twist at the end, of sorts, but the denouement isn’t the issue – as we observe the existential despair of the guinea pig protagonists we are, like their masters, party to their misery, decline and extinction. The movie is not without its antecedents – such stories of detached suburban entrapment are reminiscent of the horror / science fiction vortex of E.C. Comics, or the Twilight Zone, two American institutions that practically invented this sub-genre at a time when suburbia was burgeoning and becoming normalised in the U.S. There’s also a smidgeon of Stepford Wives and even Aphex Twin thrown in, for the more off-kilter moments. Yet the movie offers no redemption or message, beyond the visceral effect felt by the viewer – we are caged with them, the unfairness of their plight, though lacking subtext, is palpable and heart-rending. This is at least partly down to the excellence of the two leads, whose gradual loss of hope and resolve is delineated very well indeed. There’s also the art direction – the sun baked repression immersing this idealised, immaculate “suburb” is ratcheted up to an absurd level, with the robotic boy (Senan Jennings / Eanna Hardwicke) its ruthless, indifferent avatar.
Ultimately this is a horror film with a simple premise that eschews shock or manipulation, which certainly goes against the grain of the marketplace. Whether this movie is anyone’s cup of tea is another matter, even if on a cinematic level it is a satisfying experience. If you’re not keen on staring into the abyss for ninety-seven minutes, I’d perhaps reconsider seeing it – this is definitely not a feelgood flick. But either way, for what it is, it’s a remarkably assured work.
Here’s the film’s trailer
It will be available on the following platforms
Curzon Home Cinema