DIR: Lorcan Finnegan • WRI: Garret Shanley • DOP: MacGregor • ED: Tony Cranstoun • DES: Rick Carter, Kevin Jenkins • PRO: Brendan McCarthy, John McDonnell • MUS: Kristian Eidnes Andersen • DES: Philip Murphy • CAST: Imogen Poots, Danielle Ryan, Molly McCann, Jesse Eisenberg
The word ‘vivarium’ signifies an enclosure, container, or construction modified in such a way as to enable the study and observation of animals/pets in quasi-natural surroundings. Thus sets the theme for Vivarium the film. Directed by Lorcan Finnegan, Vivarium narrates the story of a young thirty-something couple, teacher Gemma (Imogen Poots), and her handyman boyfriend Tom (Jesse Eisenberg), who decide to purchase their first house together. Driving home from work, they encounter a mysterious estate agent, Martin (Jonathan Aris), who tries to pique their interest in a housing estate called Yonder. The pair are visibly unenthusiastic about the proposal but Martin gently bullies them into viewing the property. As they set off to see the house, both parties are evidently unsettled by Martin’s behaviour. He is oddly intense and yet pleasant almost to a fault. Upon arrival at the residence, their unease continues.
Inside the domicile, it appears as if the house was recently lived in – Gemma and Tom find a nursery already prepared and decorated in blue – when they comment on this, the ever unctuous Martin suggests that they might be ready to start a family soon. Moments later, as Gemma and Tom explore the rear garden of the house, they find that Martin, along with his car, has completely disappeared. Gemma and Tom decide that they will also leave.
On driving through the estate, they suddenly find that the show-house, number 9 is once more in front of them. Initially nonplussed, the duo take a different route. After hours of driving, and constantly finding themselves back where they started, their car finally runs out of petrol and they have no option but to re-enter number 9 and stay there.
Gradually they realise that there is no escaping the clutches of Yonder and despair sets in. The food delivered daily is bland, almost inedible. Mysterious boxes appear on the road outside the house. Inside are supplies for living or rather, existing. Shortly after, yet another box appears. This time a baby boy is inside. The caption on the box states that if the child is raised, Gemma and Tom will be released. The method of release is not specified. Deprived of the things that render joy, the trials of life metamorphose into stultifying ennui. Boredom and an aching sense of dread become daily fodder.
The premise of Vivarium is simple but so effective. Shot on a relatively small budget and with an excellent, albeit small group of actors, the film offers stark commentary on the pitfalls of capitalism. Eisenberg and Poots are expertly cast and there is genuine chemistry between the two. There are oedipal overtones throughout along with some scenes of dystopian, gut-wrenching hilarity. Life with its tragic irony, successes and bitter failures is truly missed despite all of the difficulties it can present at times.
Vivarium is one of the most innovative and theatrical films around at the moment and director Lorcan Finnegan has excelled with his tale of misdirected desire. It is an advisory account in favour of trusting base instincts, a Kafkaesque swansong to social mores, and a deterrent in favour of being careful of what you most aspire towards. As in being very very careful indeed.
There are some interesting twists to watch out for and the film is tensely executed with almost no respite. Sometimes eerie and at other times provoking laughter, Vivarium is dramatic accomplishment itself.
Vivarium is on digital 27th March 2020
Vivarium – Official Website