28 March 2020 18:37

Lucy Beaumont Jon Richardson Peter Kay's Car Share

A young couple looking for the perfect home find themselves trapped in a mysterious labyrinth-like neighborhood of identical houses. Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) represent every maturing couple on the verge of adulthood's final evolution. The title "Vivarium" is an immediate tell of the film's intentions, defined as "an enclosure, container, or structure adapted or prepared for keeping animals under seminatural conditions for observation or study or as pets." The film, itself, an experiment in predetermined "perfection." Tom and Gemma the lab rats, which grants us scant development to draw from given how their time outside Yonder's maze is brief. In Lorcan Finnegan's Vivarium, which world premiered at last year's Critics' Week (parallel section of the Cannes Film Festival), a young couple is looking forward to take the next step in their relationship: get their own home. Guided by an unequivocally weird estate agent named Martin (Jonathan Aris), school teacher Gemma (Imogen Poots) and school gardener Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) take a trip to Yonder, a new suburban housing development.

When the estate agent disappears, Gemma and Tom decide it's the perfect time for their getaway, but soon enough they realize they're literally trapped in an infinite space of empty identical houses. Vivarium functions as a rich allegory for such themes as parenting and the monotony and difficulties of everyday home life; at one point, for example, the couple's relationship grows cold, there's anger and, gradually, they create distance between each other: Gemma embraces motherhood and Tom gets obsessed with digging in the garden hoping to somehow find an exit from the endless suburban hell. At the same time, Vivarium is certainly a genre piece, offering a glimpse of a unique and strange world, mainly through the fast-growing child (or whatever he or it is), who keeps imitating the adults and their voices in a creepy way, irritatingly screaming, and maintaining a series of enigmatic activities (Senan Jennings plays the young boy and then Eanna Hardwicke the grown-up version of the character). Because it takes a while to the film to turn dark, and also because it's a sci-fi film with Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, lots of people didn't have an expectation or were wrong, I didn't want them to think "oh, it's going to be like Passengers or something." I wanted to set up the tone at the beginning of the film to be in the vein of a seventies sci-fi film, with the simplicity, and kind of explaining how's the whole film is going to play out in just the titles through nature. Yeah, one of the primary reasons for making the film was kind of tapping into the anxieties of young couples, like what is that people are really afraid of these days on a more existential level?

We're kind of afraid of our freedom being taken from us, the hopes and dreams of an exciting future being turn into just boredom, or forced into circumstances where you could end up in a relationship that you might not be fully prepared to commit to for eternity, parents becoming alienated from their children who spend all their time online, watching TV and talking to strangers on the Internet, all that kind of stuff. I think with genre you're not tied to reality fully, so you can use metaphor, you can kind of exaggerate elements of things that really exist in order to look at it from a different angle, or explore ideas and themes in ways that you couldn't do enough if you're in the realm of reality. I'm not spoiling the ending but there's also this commentary of how workers [represented here by the estate agents] seem to be sort of programmed for the modern, capitalist world. But the little girl at the beginning of the film says "I don't like the way things are, it's horrible" [after teacher Gemma tells her how nature works: that the dead baby birds she found were probably killed by a cuckoo because it needed their nest]. Starring as Gemma and Tom, Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg are a young couple who are thinking of buying their first home.

While trawling around looking for all the options that they have, they end up meeting a strange yet convincing real estate agent who takes them to a suburban development called Yonder. Moreover, during the second half of the film, Tom obsesses over digging a hole in his garden and eventually ends up finding a dead body in it. In the final moments of the film, Tom dies and Gemma tries to kill the boy. This scene suggests that Yonder Development is a whole web of households where many humans are being kept in the vivarium and are being forced to raise mutant alien children. In the closing moments, the boy who was being raised by Gema and Tom arrives at the same Yonder office which was depicted earlier in the film. The moments in the film in which Gemma and Tom perceive the boy as an alien is a depiction of how parents often live in the fear of not being able to be on the same frequency as their children.