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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Review: Vivarium

Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Screenplay: Lorcan Finnegan and Garret Shanley
Year: 2020

Vivarium: a closed container prepared to watch or study some creature, something like an aquarium. With a name like this for a horror movie, it leads to thinking that the sense of claustrophobia and the atmosphere will be its most lethal weapons, and this is exactly what this movie proposes. 

A couple gets into a real estate agent’s office interested in acquiring a house. Given the insistence of the weird agent, the couple decides to see the urbanization he proposes for them to live in. After watching the unit and ready to leave they discover that the agent has disappeared and now they find themselves trapped in this maze that instead of being the development of their dreams, becomes a nightmare. 

Unable to escape the place, Tome and Gemma start inhabiting one of the houses, where boxes start to appear full of supplies and one even with a baby that now they must care for. “Vivarium” is clearly a metaphor of the horror of common suburban living, where life becomes repetitive and monotonous to the point where it leads to despair. The responsibility of caring for a child for who they feel no connection and who’s weird behavior becomes insufferable affects their mood and their relationship, again pulling from the metaphor of the suburban life horrors.

The couple Tom and Gemma are interpreted by Jesse Eisenberg (“Zombieland: Double Tap”) and Imogen Poots (“28 Weeks Later”) and together with the cinematography and the incessant overwhelming atmosphere are its best attribute. The chemistry between the couple is undeniable and you never doubt their relationship, but they’re also able to show what goes in their heads through their body language. In a movie where so much attention its put into how a monotonous life psychologically affects a person and the relationship of a couple, this is important and they both do an excellent job of showing these emotions.

The cinematography is always allusive to this monotony and symmetry that in a not so subtle way is critiqued by director Lorcan Finnegan (“Without Name”) with a script he co-wrote with Garret Shanley (“Self-Assembly”). The visual composition is always effective in carrying that emotion and in representing an urbanization so perfect and symmetric that it manages to converge opposites like claustrophobia and infinity in images that are as stimulating as they are monotonous. Instead of a real urbanization, the cinematography makes it feel as if the story takes place in a scale model or a terrarium, offering that feeling of always being watched. 

Where “Vivarium” fails is in how the story is presented. Its mix of suspense (not really horror) with science fiction and some strokes of dark humor makes it feel as it is a lengthened episode of  “The Twilight Zone” or “Black Mirror” and in this lengthening is where it can lose the viewer. The set-up of the plot and the problem start from an interesting concept that extends throughout almost the first half of the movie until reaching the second act that exemplifies the monotony of suburban life critiqued in its rhythm, that is later picked up in a very interesting outcome, although predictable, but one that goes by like a gush of wind that leaves you wishing that it had lasted longer. 

“Vivarium” mixes science fiction and suspense with the horrors of common life in the suburbs where monotony and responsibilities threaten against individual psychology and couple relationships. The great acting by its protagonist and the looked-after aesthetics that always represent it metaphor are its best resources, but the movie finds itself being hindered when the monotony it represents percolates to its development and exasperates the viewer waiting for some event to happen and shake the foundations of the plot and put it in motion. Those who enjoy strange plots and slow developments under an artistic lens will enjoy “Vivarium”, but it will require patience from those looking for something with a faster rhythm.

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