Directed By Lorcan Finnegan
Starring – Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots, Jonathan Aris
The Plot – A young couple (Eisenberg and Poots) is thinking about buying their starter home. And to this end, they visit a real estate agency where they are received by a strange sales agent, who accompanies them to a new, mysterious, peculiar housing development to show them a single-family home. There they get trapped in a surreal, maze-like nightmare that uncovers more about the truth than initially realized.
Rated R for adult language and some sexuality/nudity
– Personal interpretation. As with any abstract expressionalistic piece of cinema, this one is obviously cloaked in a deeper meaning that doesn’t immediately meet the eye. Everyone’s theories with “Vivarium” will differ with their experiences, but for my money I took it all as a nightmarish depiction of a life cycle seen through the eyes of a conventional couple. This is solidified through many instances, but particularly a story that takes place over nine months, which signifies a mother’s time when she nurtures her baby internally. To hammer this home, the number “9” is not only the couple’s address in Yonder, but the entirety of the film revolves around dividends of 9. Each time the boy grows, it signifies three months have passed in real time, and if he grows 6-7 years each time by the look of his perceived ages, he’d be 18-21 by the film’s conclusion. This is of course the age of an adult, and therefore the child doesn’t need his parents anymore, thus setting off an urgently paced cycle that moves before our very eyes with very little warning; just like the life of a child.
– Unnerving cinematography. What I love about the work of Macgregor here is the deeply complex and challenging collection of shots and angles that harvest that deeply unsettling atmosphere that is very much a character presence within the film. It helps that each shot has meaning within the context of the scene, particularly those feeding into the unraveling of mentality that plagues and often eats these characters whole in a place as cryptically isolated as this one. Such an example takes place during a dinner table meal between the three members of the household, where Macgregor preserves claustrophobia and inescapable nagging in a series of angles stitched together that depict each of their mouths digging into this savory dinner. It establishes persistence in an area that isn’t typically kosher or visually pleasant for an audience focus, and is one of the many spontaneously artistic merits that never beat with a sturdy consistency.
– Compromising atmosphere. One surprisingly satisfying aspect to the film’s sturdy direction is the decision to make its tone one that isn’t consistently aimed at a lone direction of genre offering. As expected, there’s a healthy dose of suspenseful drama that permeates from the absurdity of the gimmick within the plot, but deep beneath this, there’s a dark, twisted humor that gives the audience these therapeutic moments of release between the smothering that practically envelopes them whole. I can only compare it to something like “Black Mirror” or “Twin Peaks”, in that it finds its own residency in atmospheric originality that doesn’t allow its audience to wallow in the same grief that overtakes its protagonists, often settling for a nourishing blend of multi-genre attitude that makes this anything but a predictable engagement with what transpires.
– Surprising turns. The work of Eisenberg and Poots together brings forth a nourishing dynamic between them that doubles down on the chemistry they built while co-starring in last year’s “The Art of Self-Defense”, but it’s way they do singularly that really captured my attention. Particularly with Poots, who outlines an emotional depth with a frail performance that sees the young actress just trying to hang on mentally. In recent years, her expanding filmography has made her a dependable face in the independent world of cinema, and to that constant improvement I feel that her work in “Vivarium” might be the single best of her entire career. Likewise with Eisenberg, it’s a rare chance to see expanding emotional depth to his character, that makes this anything but a Jesse-playing-Jesse performance. His familiar snark remarks of personality are still there, but it’s the mental draining of his character that brings forth a much clearer defined line of emotional presence that I honestly wasn’t expecting, and proves that Eisenberg is anything but one-dimensional when he chooses to be.
– Sprinkled special effects. There isn’t a stern use of them throughout the film, but the occasional calling of computer generated properties stretching out the laws of physics, or even these sudden bursts of claymation animation cement an art direction for the film that made the most of its minimal budget. There’s essentially a blink and you might miss it mentality to much of their renderings that keeps them from standing out for too long, all the while stretching the realistic quality of life that much of the film spends enriching us with. The effects are so well done and naturally realized that they blend seamlessly with physical properties accordingly, giving us a marriage of computer accompaniment that I wish every movie using C.G could master without over-saturating, never interfering or distracting the viewer in a way that makes their influence obvious to the integrity of the frame.
– Production perks. The simplistic quality of much of the film’s houses and interior designs give a clean slate feeling that feeds into the abstractly unnerving circumstance surrounding much of its environment. This is seen through an unnatural green color that is sickly to look at, but too unusual to look away. As for the interiors, the designs are anything but hideous, they just lack any kind of warmth and the overall feeling of home. They’re blank slates of a house that internally never feels like a home. The fake grass and contradicting hue of the movie’s color pallet also solidifies an off-balance and isolated quality to the characters’ presence, complete with shadows cast unnaturally that make the complex feel like a set instead of a fully realized community of families and townhouses. Feeding into this notion is the complete absence of sound around our characters, which not only cements the extraordinary despair of their situation, but also feeds into the isolation that makes each of their vocal deliveries and steps that echo like a cave dwelling capacity.
– Audio spins. Similar to what the movie’s sound editing does in articulating the loneliness of the couple’s despair, the mixing technicalities also submit a unique gimmick that distorts and defines one character who moves into frame early on during the movie’s second act. This character is of course the little boy who the couple are forced to raise against their will, who is able to authenticate each of their vocal capacities while mimicking their familiar lines of dialogue. This not only plays into the mentality that children are sponges who soak up everything about their adult counterparts, but also renders this child character disturbingly effective in illustrating something bizarrely different about him that keeps the couple from fully investing into his love. The A.D.R used for the method is intentionally forced and often doesn’t line up with the child actor’s mouth movements of said lines, but it’s the tones that emit from him that make it especially effective in attaining tones we didn’t expect from a child, and serves as one more reminder inside of this world that nothing is as it seems.
– LOR-CAN. This is my first experience with the work of Finnegan’s direction, but many things become apparent in this one single solitary idea that resonates in the movie’s material. For one, Finnegan has an unapologetic unfairness that he settles with life that weighs heavily on the actions of the protagonists, stirring a tragic element to their dreaded dispositions despite it being anything but an immediate death sentence. Lorcan also shines at taking something serene and normal like suburbia, and morphing it into something downright horrific to make you never look at it the same way again. This is a staple of great horror directors, especially when you compare it to the waters of “Jaws”, or the showers of “Psycho”, and even with a man who directs only his third feature length presentation, there’s no shortage of subliminal depth and sociological commentary that make him a sought after storyteller for decades to come.
– Open-ended. This isn’t just referring to an ending that lacked an exclamation point in its permanency, but also in the many subplots and story points that are given ample bits of screen time only to disappear completely from the clarity of the film’s underdeveloped third act. I’m not someone who expects answers and exposition to be spoon-fed through me throughout every film, but too much here is left unaddressed when it feels like it was inevitably leading to bigger and better things, and I can’t escape this disappointing feeling that a great idea wasn’t fully followed through with for how much, if any of this, was possible in the first place. Especially during said third act, where the movie’s reality becomes distorted after one property-stretching act, the film just kind of wants us to believe that anything is possible in this world just because. It all feels inconsistent with the realistic touches used during the film’s first two acts, and unfortunately falls flat in what should be its most climatic moments.
– Skewered translation. As previously mentioned, this is an original and entertainingly nourishing idea by Finnegan, who reveals the emptiness behind the white picket fence dream. However, his execution isn’t free from problematic blandness that especially catches up to his screenplay abruptly during the middle of the film. For roughly thirty minutes of run time in a 92 minute presentation, nothing is progressed in a way that satisfyingly ties us over in the evolution of its gimmick. This will unfortunately test audiences during their peak curiosity, leading to very little satisfying results during a time when the mystery feels its sharpest, and clarity requiring resolve as the film moves towards its finale. It makes the film feel like it would be better suited for a “Black Mirror” episode instead of a feature length presentation, and doesn’t supplant its stationary idea with anything that can support it during expositional times.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+