The Movie Waffler New to MUBI - VIVARIUM | The Movie Waffler


After visiting a newly built suburban housing development, a two young lovers find themselves trapped in a nightmare.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Lorcan Finnegan

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots, Jonathan Aris, Danielle Ryan

vivarium dvd

From Invaders from Mars to Parents, many movies have dealt with the horrors of suburbia as seen through the eyes of a child living under the control of sinister parents. In director Lorcan Finnegan's Vivarium, the shoe is on the other foot, with a pair of unwilling parents left holding the baby in a nightmarish vision of suburban living.

Primary school teacher Gemma (Imogen Poots) and her handyman boyfriend Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) have reached the point in their relationship where they're going through the motions of viewing potential homes they probably can't afford. Popping into a real estate showroom, the young couple is greeted by Martin (Jonathan Aris), a sinister estate agent who comes off like a cross between the overly persuasive salesperson of In Fabric and one of Halloween III's cyborgs. Gemma and Tom follow Martin by car to 'Yonder', a newly built suburban housing development whose distance from the city he describes as "not too far, but far enough."

vivarium review

In Yonder they find rows upon rows of freshly constructed homes, all daubed in a sickly green paint. Martin shows them around 'Number 9' (in numerology, the number nine is associated with selflessness and responsibility, a sly nod towards what's to come), only to subsequently disappear. Failing to locate the estate agent, who at this point has given them a considerable dose of the willies, Gemma and Tom hop in their car and make for home. Hours later they find themselves stuck in a loop - no matter which turns they make, they can't find a way out of the estate, and they keep ending up back at Number 9. Eventually they run out of petrol, and with no cellphone coverage, they have no choice but to spend the night in the house.

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The next morning they set off by foot, but this yields the same results, leading them back to Number 9 at the end of the day. Outside the house they find two boxes - one filled with the sort of supplies an astronaut might take on a trip to space, the other containing a newborn baby boy, with the written instruction "Raise the child and be released."

vivarium review

The effectiveness of Vivarium as a horror movie will largely depend on your view of the predicament Gemma and Tom find themselves in. For many, perhaps even most people, the idea of living in a nice house with your loved one and raising a child with no worries regarding paying bills will sound like a dream. A lot of people spend most of their lives working to achieve such a goal. More power to them, but Vivarium's horrors aren't pitched at such folk. Rather, Finnegan's film is designed to instil terror in those of us for whom such a scenario is the ultimate nightmare.

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I have to confess that I fall in the latter camp, partly out of an intense fear of commitment and responsibility, partly from a self-awareness that a child would be better off being raised by wolves than by my clueless self. As such, for me, Vivarium was a difficult, almost painful watch. I certainly can't say I enjoyed Vivarium, but I appreciated its ability to tap into my fears and get under my skin. It does feel like a story that might be better served as an episode of a TV anthology, and it does drag in parts, but its monotony is exactly the point, so to shorten the running time would be to vastly reduce its effectiveness.

vivarium review

Though it's hinged on a supernatural premise, with the child growing at an advanced pace, resembling and eight-year-old after a mere three months, Vivarium's horrors are based on mundane realities. The mutant child is a terror, not so much because he occasionally omits a high frequency yell like the aliens of the 1978 Body Snatchers remake, but because he's a pain in the ass who won't leave his parents alone. Gemma gives in to maternal urges, while Tom plots a nasty end to the boy, setting the pair against one another.

Though the leads are played by an English actress and American actor, the passive aggressive way they deal with their situation tells you this is a movie written and directed by Irish filmmakers (as a nation, we don't have dandruff in our hair, but sand, so accustomed are we to burying our heads rather than tackling conflicts openly). Gemma and Tom are torn apart by their seemingly inescapable predicament, the latter choosing to spend every waking hour digging in the garden in the hope he might come across a way out, but their affection for one another remains unbroken. Vivarium might be dismissed as a deeply cynical view of suburban life, but its take on the strength of relationships is ultimately uplifting. Finnegan's film isn't a pessimistic look at human relationships, but rather a damning view of how we're increasingly forced to live pre-packaged lives in the western world, and the traps we sometimes allow ourselves to get caught in. That said, expect birth control sales to skyrocket among its audience.

Vivarium is on MUBI UK now.