Millennials everywhere have probably thought about their first starter home numerous times. I know I frequently look up potential first homes on Trulia, taking down notes of what might be the perfect first home once I get to that point financially in my life. What color would the walls be? Would it be an apartment? A condo? How many rooms could one afford? These are the questions that occupy the mind when contemplating a first home. However, none of us could have ever imagined our first home would be a prison. Or being forced to live in a home not of one’s own choosing. Yet, this is the scenario presented to us in Lorcan Finnegan‘s latest sci-fi thriller, VIVARIUM.
In the beginning, we are introduced to a young couple, Gemma and Tom, played respectfully by Imogen Poots (Black Christmas) and Jesse Eisenberg (The Art of Self-Defense). They are both contemplating their first starter home together, not quite certain what it is they want from it. Each of them has their own views as to where they would like things to go for themselves in the relationship. This ambivalence towards the future creates a foothold for Martin (Jonathan Aris), the very creepy and awkward salesperson, who convinces them to come look at a home. They follow him to the neighborhood and, while they are looking throughout the home, he leaves them. What seems like a really off sales venture turns into something far more sinister as they soon realize that there is no way for them to escape the neighborhood. Things become even more strange when a baby is left on their doorstep and they are forced to care for it under the guise of potentially being sent free from this strange situation. What develops is an intriguing story that showcases the fragility of relationships under strain, an intrinsic fear of the conformity that comes with suburbia, and what happens when one is forced to reside within a VIVARIUM.
There is a lot to dissect from this film, but I want to take a moment to really congratulate the creators of this film. Science fiction can be a difficult genre to tackle, especially with the genre really taking hold of mainstream viewers’ hearts in recent years. From the continuous symbolic references to the life cycle of the cuckoo bird to seeing how easily Tom and Gemma split into stereotypically gendered positions when confronted with this strange child to raise, there is so much to chew on thematically. It is difficult not to commend both Lorcan Finnegan and Garret Shanley for this tale. The film is a weird, yet cohesive story that allows the audience to take the breadcrumbs they’ve scattered along the way and piece them together into a full meal viewers can digest. And, by the time the audience gets to the arguably weirdest parts of the film, it’ll ring like an ah-ha moment to all because the trail we’ve been led down has prepared us for these particular moments. By the time we reach the film’s end, everything comes around full circle and the horror of what this means will resonate with all as the credits start to roll.
There is a realism to VIVARIUM that helps to ground the movie from being pulled into an absurdist realm. What helps keep the film grounded, though, is a combination of writing alongside the impactful performances delivered by Poots, Eisenberg, and the young Senan Jennings. Jennings, in particular, is unnerving as the Young Boy and, in all honesty, provides another example in my ever-growing list for why raising children can be absolutely nightmarish. The three actors work well off of each other, with Poots’ Gemma and Eisenberg’s Tom reacting off of the ear piercingly strange behavior of Jennings’ Young Boy. Both adults perfectly encapsulate the gradual spiraling decline of reluctant parents who are in way over their head, with Poots’ Gemma doing whatever she can to appease the Young Boy at the expense of her own health while Eisenberg’s Tom is doing whatever he can to escape through his work. Both are utterly heartbreaking and, as the tension builds, you just hope that perhaps they are able to manage a happy ending out of all of this.
On a more personal level, this film is I think something that many people my age, or at least in my generation, will relate to. The insecurities and the ambivalence surrounding homeownership are like weighted chains around our ankles that we drag beneath us. While the film itself doesn’t speak as much to this, the idea of living in suburbia is nearly unattainable without making numerous compromises. And, for many millennials and upcoming Generation Z-ers abstaining from having children, the thought of being forced to raise a child means far more than a loss of income, but a loss of all that makes us who we are. As we see both Tom and Gemma lose themselves in the process of being trapped in this suburban hell with this child, it feels like an unintended warning of what we can lose if we keep trying to reach for these outdated goals that Western society continues to try to enforce upon us. Perhaps, I am reading too much into the film. But part of the joy of filmmaking and creating is seeing how an individual reacts to what has been gifted to the final product.
Overall, VIVARIUM is one of those films that I think many will either love or hate. It’s a slow-burn science fiction thriller that gradually unfolds itself while also simultaneously feeling like we’re slowly being boiled alive. As the tension builds between Tom, Gemma, and the Young Boy, it feels like a gradual raising of the temperature. By the time we realize that we’re perhaps the frog in that rapidly boiling stew of tension, the reality of what is actually happening has assaulted our minds. We’re left to wonder what this means for the future as the cycle repeats itself anew. VIVARIUM is a slow-burn sci-fi thriller that will horrify, weird out, and astound audiences with its haunting full-circle tale.
VIVARIUM will be released on March 27, 2020.