Vivarium is the Humpty Dumpty of movies. It sits straddling a wall between sci-fi and horror. Every time Humpty leans toward one side or the other, our breath catches, waiting to see if he’ll finally take a definitive dumpty. But in all honesty, Vivarium also teeters on an even bigger, much more important wall between good movie and bad movie. The direction in which it ultimately falls will be entirely up to you, and you won’t be wrong either way. If you are willing to proceed, suspend your disbelief now and leave it here: ______________________. You won’t be needing it.
Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) are a young couple in search of a perfect home. One day they follow a real estate agent out to the suburbs to check out a new development. The house in question, #9, is indistinguishable in a row of identical little boxes made of ticky tacky, little boxes all the same. Welcome to Yonder, the sign beckons. Both the agent and the model home feel a little off; something in the back of your head niggles. Even Gemma and Tom are aware that something’s not quite right, but it’s Gemma’s politeness that have gotten them into this mess, and she’s determined to see it through. Neither are prepared for the agent to suddenly disappear, and both are stressed to previously unimaginable levels when they find that they cannot escape the labyrinth of infinitely repeating suburban homes. No matter how long they drive or how many turns they make, they always wind up back at #9.
Over the next few days, despair and desperation mount as the development proves itself to be a prison. Provisions appear, seemingly out of nowhere, and one day, one of the crates contains a baby, with simple instructions: raise him and you will be released. Within 90 days the baby is a walking, talking boy, but that’s the least alarming thing about him. This kid will shoot automatically to whatever list of top 10 creepiest movie kids you’ve been keeping in your head.
Director Lorcan Finnegan and writer Garret Shanley have cooked up a scathing indictment of the myth of suburbia, indeed the myth of parenthood. There is a not very subtle allegory here indicating that the monotony of suburbia is meant to lull us into placidity so we fail to notice that parenthood is literally sucking the life out of us. Children are a black hole of needs and wants that parents fill, fill, fill and the kid just takes, takes, takes, until there’s nothing left to give and the parent is just an empty shell of its former self.
Vivarium is not scary in the traditional sense of horror. It means to cultivate a current of fear in the circuitry of your own life. Does the pursuit of happiness betray us? Is the American dream a lie? Is domesticity a trap?
Welcome to Yonder.