Films aren’t always designed to entertain us and provide us with something that we will immediately recommend to others, there are occasions where they are made purely to generate a raw and human emotion in us. Vivarium is one of those films. If you’re expecting this sci-fi horror movie to leave you feeling anything other than heavy-hearted and melancholic, then it would be recommended that you steer clear of this one. However, if you revel in feeling like you’ve gone through a devastating incident that makes you question the point of life entirely, this film will be just to your taste.
Vivarium follows Gemma who is a high school teacher and her American boyfriend Tom, who cuts down trees for a living. As many young couples do, they decide it’s time to make the next move and purchase a home together where they can continue their idyllic life. They visit an estate agents which is run by the mysterious Martin, whose characteristics are very peculiar. Regardless, they follow him to a new housing estate called Yonder which has been built to provide people with affordable forever homes. Once Gemma and Tom are shown one of the identical houses from Yonder, they suddenly realise Martin has abandoned them and they have become trapped inside the endless loop of identical houses, with no means of escape.
Imogen Poots (Green Room) and Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) star as the couple in this tale of terror, and it’s clear to the audience that as soon as Gemma and Tom step foot inside that estate agents they are on a cursed and doomed path. The individual characters although not presented with much depth, are easily relatable as they are an ordinary couple that have the same hopes, dreams and ambitions as most regular, professional young couples do including buying their starter home to put them on the path that society has said is the normality. Even though the dialogue seems a little sparse at times between the two characters, considering the hopeless situation they’ve found themselves in, it seems quite appropriate that they become more and more devoid of conversation.
From the moment we are presented with Yonder, there is a disorienting feeling that comes through the way the camera follows the couple’s cars as they twist and turn amongst infinite rows of identical houses, which eventually made me feel a sense of vertigo and nausea whilst watching the film. This sensation is prevalent throughout the entirety, making me understand the sickening feeling of claustrophobia, confusion, and despair that the characters are feeling at realising they are trapped in a maze that they cannot understand. The combination of symmetry and complex patterns throughout the film left me feeling quite dazed by the end of the film, and whilst walking back through central London even caused me to need to sit down for a moment and gather my bearings, I found the feeling that overwhelming.
During Gemma and Tom’s time in suburbian Hell, they are forced to raise a child which will ensure their subsequent release from the prison they are being held in. If you are currently thinking about trying for a baby, it might be best that you do not watch Vivarium because it encapsulates every anxiety around parenthood and exacerbates it until you are certain that castration is the only possible solution moving forward. This otherworldly child is not of human descent, and is one of the most terrifying depictions of what a demon child would behave like. He mimics his parents, matching their voices, mannerisms and repeating full-blown conversations they have had. He is devoid of any emotion and cannot understand anything that is not completely literal. He also screams like a banshee when his needs are not met. I would not be surprised if they started using Vivarium as contraception, it is that destroying of the want or need for children.
This film has a very bleak metaphor for life, leaving you wondering if there really is any point in everything that we do. It depicts in a very depressing manner how we work to buy a home, to have a child, to continue working until we die and are thrown in a hole in the ground. The societal pressures around having this normal life in which every person must strive to have, even though it doesn’t necessarily make us any happier or give us anything to live for. Another aspect that Vivarium really presents in a way that made me as a woman feel overwhelmed, is motherhood. Looking at how women are expected to bear a child, bring it into the world, and then dedicate every waking moment to that child in order to prepare it for the world. Losing oneself to become the sole caregiver to this soul-sucking monster that will eventually bury you in the ground and continue living their life. Even though this is of course not how motherhood should be, it is an interesting perspective to show how for the longest time society has made women feel like that is how they should dedicate their lives once they become a mother.
Vivarium is not a film that you will ever be able to say that you enjoyed, because there is no enjoyment in this film. It is one of the bleakest films that I’ve ever watched, and tonally has similar vibes to films such as Requiem for a Dream and Irreversible – leaving you questioning your existence and why life was designed in the way that it was. Director Lorcan Finnegan has truly made a horrible film that could devastate audiences and leave you feeling empty, hopeless and without any need of following the formalities of what life expects of you. With that said Vivarium is a unique piece of storytelling that differs from anything else, and is brave in being a piece of film that only holds negative emotions and pure misery.
Verdict: 4 stars