Review by Sean Boelman
Vivarium, directed by Lorcan Finnegan, is a new high-concept sci-fi thriller in the tradition of The Twilight Zone. Thanks to an intriguing premise and some committed performances from the two leads, the film is able to be relatively interesting, even when it feels like it isn’t fully exploring its themes.
The movie follows a house-hunting young couple when they are trapped in a suburban labyrinth of identical houses and are forced to raise a child with otherworldly properties. The film is undeniably very weird, but for the most part, it works well because it hooks the viewer in with the promise of bizarre and disturbing situations.
However, the movie’s pacing is likely going to be off-putting for all but the most patient of audiences. The film does take a while to get moving, but there is enough happening in the first act to keep the viewer in suspense of what is coming next. It is the following hour of the movie that is often grating (albeit purposefully so) which will be divisive.
Finnegan’s commentary on suburbia and its challenges is pretty obvious, and unfortunately, he doesn’t take it far beyond the surface level with this film. The script seems to think that it is a lot deeper than it actually is, and even though there are some interesting ideas on display, they aren’t anything that hasn’t been seen before in the genre.
Another weakness of the movie is that its character development is lackluster. The film would have been much more effective had the relationship between the two leads of the movie been developed with more depth. Granted, the film is about the rift that these challenges cause in their relationship, but a greater emotional connection could have been formed had there been more of a foundation in place.
That said, both lead actors do a very good job in their roles. Imogen Poots, who has mostly done (extremely strong) supporting work in the past, finally gets a chance to shine in a lead role. She is able to infuse the little bit of emotion that is present in an otherwise somewhat cold movie. Jesse Eisenberg is also interesting in his supporting role, though he does not get nearly as much screen time or material.
It is on a technical level that Finnegan’s film is most successful. With surreal and nightmarish visuals, this movie is definitely very discomforting, and that goes a long way in making the film more suspenseful. Furthermore, the sound design is very dissonant (another thing which will alienate some viewers), but to strong effect.
Vivarium ultimately does exactly what it sets out to do, but whether or not that is a success is questionable. There are some great moments, likable performances, and some solid visuals, but the movie is disappointingly a bit too shallow.
Vivarium hits VOD on March 27.