**Contains Mild Spoilers**
Searching for your first starter home? Yonder housing development has it all, it’s the peaceful suburban neighbourhood of dreams, ideal for go-getting young couples to settle down and achieve a lifetime of security. But not all is as it seems as Gemma and Tom are about to discover when they embark on a viewing of no.9 Yonder. Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg star in this claustrophobic mind-bending thriller that brings a whole other meaning to the excitement of buying that idyllic first home.
Vivarium is a film that warrants a repeat viewing. I initially viewed it at the Abertoir Horror Festival back in November 2019 and was instantly captivated by the terrifying surrealness that the film evokes. On this second viewing the most striking aspect comes in the intricate foreshadowing that occurs from the opening credits to the moment Gemma and Tom are taken to view no.9 Yonder alongside peculiar estate agent Martin (Jonathan Aris). From the visual detail to spoken dialogue, Vivarium carefully sets up the brewing horror but much like Gemma and Tom, as viewers we are unaware of what’s to come, before long the rug is pulled from under both the main characters and the audience and the stifling nightmare is about to commence.
With Vivarium’s release date being March 27th, 2020, it feels rather timely given the current climate. We meet Gemma and Tom in their natural environment, life is as we know it but without warning everything is set to change in the blink of an eye. Once it dawns on the couple that they are trapped inside their worst nightmare with no means of escape or an ounce of hope, everything they once knew is no longer as it was. Food is tasteless, the clouds in the sky are identical and life suddenly becomes monotonous. Life does not exist outside of their “home”. These themes will no doubt resonate more so now than ever before particularly with parts of the world being on lockdown confined to staying at home. It’s a case of art unintentionally imitating life.
Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg both deliver incredible performances as their characters navigate the unusual situation, they’re in. They profoundly play every aspect of emotional distress from anger to resentment to fear convincingly allowing for some intensified dramatic scenes. With that said, there’s also a real sense that they really love one another and are determined to fight and get out of the maze-like neighbourhood surrounding them.
Vivarium uses its disturbing concept to make a commentary on the heightened pressures and anxieties of modern life that most couples are faced with, from buying a home and having children using these issues in an exaggerated and highly imaginative way. Without being too spoiler-ific, the film features one of the creepiest kids put to genre film adding another unnerving layer to the already horrifying situation. Writer/Director Lorcan Finnegan smartly blends horror, drama and comedy meaning you’re never quite sure what to make of the tone and what kind of outcome the film will have.
Visually, Vivarium captures the dark side of suburbia with every single detail appearing too idealistic from the aesthetically identical houses and their surroundings to the tidiness of the house. Nothing ever looks out of place proving that Yonder is not a mirror of what real life is like.
While Vivarium is solid for the most part, its ending is sadly dissatisfying, falling apart at the last hurdle by opting for vagueness over offering an explanation to the mystery of the housing development, leaving us question, why does it prey on young couples and what is it all for? It can be fun to keep certain aspects open to interpretation however Vivarium’s finale is too ambiguous. Even when drawing a personal conclusion from the film, it still leaves the viewer unsatisfied and perplexed with no real payoff.
Vivarium will undoubtably be a divisive film, but its difficult not to be completely absorbed in it as it malevolently seeps under the skin offering a mesmerizing meld of haunting psychological horror, mind-bending sci-fi and gripping drama.
Vivarium is now available digitally courtesy of Vertigo Releasing.