LFF 2019: Vivarium Review
Self-satisfied and running on the fumes of a paper-thin concept, director Lorcan Finnegan’s Vivarium is 90 minutes of tedium that doesn't know what to do with its flimsy premise. Throughout the 90 minute runtime (which feels much longer) there are occasional allusions to other ideas you hope might bloom into something more, but these fleeting moments are quickly snuffed out. Mostly it feels like a Black Mirror off-cut that never made it past the first draft and has now be unwisely resurrected.
Harsh words perhaps, but in the cold light of day it’s hard to know whether it’s a reaction to the disappointment of having your expectations crushed, or just the result of having to see it through to the bitter end. The set-up sees young couple Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) and Gemma (Imogen Poots) browsing for a new home. An oddly unnerving geek, Martin (Jonathan Aris), acts as the estate agent who gives them a tour of a suburban housing project called Yonder. He says it’s the perfect home forever – which may have more meaning than they first think.
The moment Martin disappears midway through their tour of house number 9, there’s an intrigue about where things are heading. Every street and sickly green house is identical and Tom and Gemma desperately try to drive out of the maze of roads until the petrol tank runs dry - right outside of number 9. It’s like the feeling you get when trapped inside IKEA for hours after being forced to follow the precision-engineered route down into the checkout area. There isn’t another soul in sight, until a box arrives containing a baby and a message saying they have to raise it in order to return home.
Based on the script there’s a short film ready to pop out of Vivarium, but nothing more. Once the couple become trapped in a never-ending routine it has little to say other than living conventional roles in a suburban family home is a soul-destroying experience. The baby becomes an annoying boy who screams to be fed and watered and repeats their own frustrations back to them. This continues ad nauseam to drive home the tedium of such an existence and with no variation on offer you’ll soon be climbing the walls too.
It seems all of the thought went into the visual creation of Vivarium’s world instead of worrying about minor things like character development. We’ve only just met Tom and Gemma before being pitched into this nightmarish scenario and we learn little about them beyond the brief gender archetypes they descend into. There are touches of Tim Burton, Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry-style surrealism (a late sequence in the film seems to lift heavily from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) to the film’s aesthetic but next-to-nothing going on underneath.
Vivarium plays in competition at this year's London Film Festival.
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