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  • Alex First

Vivarium (M) - 98 minutes

Updated: Apr 10

A surreal nightmare, Vivarium is a descent into madness.

It is designed to do your head in … and it does.

Here’s the scenario – Tom (Jesse Eisenberg), a gardener, and Gemma (Imogen Poots), a schoolteacher, are a happy couple, boyfriend and girlfriend.

They are considering buying a house together when they wander into a shop displaying cardboard models of the same perfectly manicured home.

They are confronted by a strange real estate salesman – Martin (Jonathan Aris) – who implores them to follow him to check out the real thing, which they do.

The sales line is “Yonder – Quality family homes. Forever.”

There are dozens and dozens of these green, rectangular houses with chimneys and black slate rooves.

Above them are perfectly formed, fluffy white clouds against a bright sunny, light blue sky.

Then suddenly the sales agent disappears and the pair is imprisoned in this bizarre world, where every day is ground hog day.

Try as they do, they can’t escape the labyrinth-like housing development, where they are the only inhabitants.

Each day a cardboard box containing food and other essentials sits in the street outside their place – number 9.

Then one day, a soulless baby arrives in the cardboard box, one that grows up much faster than he would in the real world – one who speaks in a deep voice, can mimic their speech patterns, often screams relentlessly and watches geometric shapes on TV.

Before long both want to throttle the kid.

Tom and Gemma are trapped, seemingly forever, but that doesn’t mean they don’t try to find a way out of their predicament.

Vivarium is relentless and bizarre – a step into the unknown. Science fiction.

You long for answers, which aren’t forthcoming.

The script by Garret Shanley – who had previously worked with director Lorcan Finnegan on Without Name (2016) – keeps you guessing.

The acting, as you can expect from the likes of Eisenberg and Poots, is first rate.

Is the film enjoyable? I can’t say that, although I can admit to intriguing.

As an audience, like the protagonists, we are constantly trying to solve the puzzle, left asking just what is going on here and why? What sort of supernatural world have we entered?

Irish director Finnegan has crafted a decidedly different horror story for the modern age, where comfort and closure aren’t going to happen any time soon.

He was informed by the notion that the dream of owning a home can readily turn into a nightmare.


Incidentally, the title comes from a Latin word meaning an area for keeping species under observation.

Rated M, Vivarium scores a 6 out of 10.

It is available as video on demand from Google Play, iTunes, Telstra, Fetch and Umbrella Entertainment on April 16 and from Foxtel on Demand from May 6, 2020.

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