Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) are a young couple in search of their first house. A real estate agent named Martin (Jonathan Aris) insists they consider living in a new development called Yonder. Gemma and Tom find the place too quiet and creepy but when they try to leave, Martin has disappeared. Not only that but they can't find their way out of the labyrinth-like neighborhood of identical houses. After several attempts to leave the estate, they discover an infant with instructions to "Raise the child and be released."
The opening sequence of 'Vivarium', involving a nest of baby birds, will likely recall David Lynch's 'Blue Velvet'. In fact, "disturbia" (or dystopian suburbia) movies are an immediate comparison point here, with previous examples including 'Suburbicon', 'American Beauty', 'The Virgin Suicides' and 'Pleasantville'. Further back again there was 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers'. 'Vivarium' can similarly pose itself as a horror-sci fi amalgamation.
Irish director Lorcan Finnegan has worked in horror and mystery type of narratives before, and if there's one thing that can be said of his second feature, it's that it's original. And that's not something you can say of many films. It's also disturbing to the point that you may not want to revisit it after the first watch. Then again, the degree of intrigue inspired by the enigma underpinning the story stays with you for days and encourages re-evaluation. It's one hell of a conversation starter, that's for sure.
One of the interesting facets of 'Vivarium' is its psychoanalytical considerations. There are darkly funny moments involving the two characters - both Eisenberg and Poots are great by the way, but Poots is really phenomenal - as we see the surreal nature of their situation unfold. Both lose their grip on reality and begin to revert to primal states, in very different ways. Throw into the mix a weird humanoid child thing that does all the annoying things children do, like screaming, repeating themselves, or acting like animals, and the experience leaves you as a viewer wanting to do something between laughing and crying at their predicament. It's an intense experience of a movie, and is only slightly let down by the sense that after such a major build up, you wonder if it's a worthy pay off.
The timing of a film about a couple who are forced into quarantine isolated from the rest of the world, where food is delivered to them and they begin to forget what the wind feels like, is almost too surreal, but of course, coincidences like this happen with cinema and it isn't really a commentary on what is currently going on in the world. Really the points of fascination with the film are its original premise, its examination of humanity and gender as a social and instinctual construct, and the mystery one is left with in the conclusion.
'Vivarium' is available on the following digital platforms in Ireland and the UK from Friday 27th March: iTunes / Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Microsoft Store, Playstation, Virgin, Google Play, Rakuten, BT, Curzon Home Cinema and BFI Player.