sat 20/07/2024

Vivarium review – housing ladder to hell | reviews, news & interviews

Vivarium review – housing ladder to hell

Vivarium review – housing ladder to hell

Sharp if limited horror allegory of property and parenthood

In every dream home a heartache: Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg)

Imagine being trapped in your perfect home forever. It’s easy if you try now, as Vivarium’s allegory about property and parenthood is deepened by events.

Following young couple Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) through a Black Mirror­-style real estate nightmare, it constructs a creepy alternative suburbia which tests their relationship to destruction.

Director Lorcan Finnegan’s first image is the unsettling alien maw of a cuckoo, as it tosses rival birds from their nest. “It’s only horrible sometimes,” keen primary school teacher Gemma says of nature to a watching child, before leaving work with immature Tom. Talk turns to babies and houses, before they stop off at the sort of weird high street estate agent more usually found in The Twilight Zone.

Politeness and property addiction hush misgivings about “creepy little mutant” agent Martin (pictured below), who abandons them in a suburban estate where, it turns out, you can check in but never leave. The couple’s slowly dawning panic as they drive dry of petrol in a Moebius loop of antiseptic streets beneath eerie blue sky, and presumptions of reality ebb away, is claustrophobically creepy. Our lockdown-circumscribed walks come to mind. Diet, too, as tasteless, odourless food is dropped at their doorstep, and their fridge fills with pointless plenty. A baby boy arrives as well, with the proviso that if they raise it, they can leave.

Martin (Jonathan Aris) in VivariumThe child grows in lurching leaps, mimicking their traits with vicious irony, but showing no human instincts of its own. Gemma veers between protectiveness and hate at this cuckoo in their nest. “You’re a mystery and I’m going to solve you,” she teases, bonding despite herself, yearning for affection from somewhere, the teacher who was good with kids aching to connect. By his accelerated teenage years he scares her, and she longs to swing a bat at his head. This variation on Rosemary’s Baby’s pregnancy fears and messy maternal instincts is the film’s keenest metaphor.

Gemma and Tom’s relationship accelerates in this hothouse, too. Sex is a greedily grabbed distraction till it sinks into routine, then indifference. Their dance to car stereo ska music is a necessary reminder to them and us of the fresh, uncertain love being crushed. The unnatural boy wrecks even this.

Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) and Gemma (Imogen Poots) in VivariumEisenberg seems to be glibly coasting on his New York neurotic persona till it cracks, as Tom becomes obsessed with digging under their garden, trying to locate a physical end to their nightmare like an increasingly ragged POW. This doomed masculine drive for power and purpose is a manic extension of his need in an early scene to drive the couple’s car, the gender games people play now redundant.

It’s Poots’ film really, as she dirties her beauty into irrelevance, and howls with feral strength. But Finnegan finally exhausts his allegory, and explains too much. An alien plot to undermine society could easily secrete itself in our insane housing market. This trip down the housing ladder into hell, though, fails to complete its coolly hermetic concept.

They stop off at the sort of weird high street estate agent more usually found in The Twilight Zone


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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