Vivarium (Lorcan Finnegan, 2019, Ireland/Belgium/Denmark/USA/UK)

  Lorcan Finnegan’s Vivarium is a film which defies traditional genre categories, traversing the boundaries of black comedy and horror. Equally inspired by Samuel Beckett and The Twilight Zone, the film tells the story of Gemma and Tom, a young house-hunting couple who decide to tour a home at a mazelike complex called Yonder. It becomes evident very early on that something is strange about Yonder, as the houses - exact replicas of one another - seem to go on as far as the eye can see. When their real estate agent, Martin, disappears, Tom and Gemma attempt to leave the complex. However, they find themselves going around in circles and unable to leave. 

What transpires next leads the film into progressively more unsettling territory. It is clear that - as suggested by the film’s title - Tom and Gemma are being used as pawns in some experiment. The introduction of a creepy child forces them into domestic roles, raising the level of tension in the film and turning it into a bizarre domestic drama. 

Vivarium originated as a short film, and the material in some ways still feels better suited to the short format. While the script is rich with the seeds of ideas, it never quite develops them. The ambiguity works to some extent, but I was left wanting more substance. The film loses some steam in the latter half.

That being said, the visual palette of the film, inspired by surrealist greats such as M.C. Escher and Rene Magritte, is very impressive. Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots bring a great deal of intensity to their roles. The actors who play their “son” - in both young and old age - are also quite impressive. If Vivarium is not exactly a great film, it is still thought provoking and worth a watch.



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