Fans of Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” rejoice! “Vivarium” will sate that craving for that odd, twisted, sci-fi story. Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots star as Tom and Gemma in this thriller as a young couple on a quest for the perfect house to purchase in a seller’s market. What they find is a home that “has all you need and all you’d want” but it will plunge them both into a nightmare they could have never dreamed. This is a smart, chilling, and captivating film that orchestrates psychological dilemmas that are eerily relevant to our sequestered lifestyle today.
The opening scene is straight out of National Geographic as a mother bird is off to find food for its newborns, but a cuckoo comes along and shoves the babes out of their nest and takes it over, only to be fed by this unwitting and unrelated “mother.” And this is the first foreshadowing of much more to come. We cut to a cheerful scene as Gemma, an elementary school teacher, helps the children act as trees with the wind blowing and then wildly swing their “branches” to replicate a storm…another glimpse into the future. Gemma and Tom, a landscape maintenance man, head to a real estate office where a peculiar man named Martin (Jonathan Aris) convinces them to check out the homes in Yonder…it’s not too far and it’s not too close.” Gemma, not wanting to be rude, agrees to check it out. Driving into a development where the green identical houses line the street, Martin’s odd mannerisms as he shows Gemma and Tom the home rise to the surface a bit more and then he disappears. And try as they might to leave this place, all the roads lead back to number 9; their place.
It’s not until a cardboard box with a baby boy inside with instructions to “raise the child and be released” that they realize they are in a dire situation. The boy, or “it” as Tom will only refer to him, grows at an exponential rate, but he’s just as odd as Martin and even creepier! His uncanny ability to mimic Tom and Gemma give us a glimpse into what’s been going on over the last 98 days during which time Boy as gone from infancy to pre-teen. The emotional turmoil is unraveling them at their seems and the strangeness increases exponentially. There are so many great surprises and twists and turns that punctuate our own psychological needs in this film as it explores gender roles, expectations, and programming. Colors and sounds play an important role in this film as well, both aspects of living that make it complete for most.
This ensemble cast is exceptional. Poots and Eisenberg balance one another perfectly as the happy yet familiar couple who are thrust into not only living together but parenting unwillingly. Their love is certainly tested and as they devolve and evolve in this situation, it is genuine and believable. Neither Poots nor Eisenberg is afraid to show their unattractive side for these roles, but it is their interaction with Boy (Senan Jennings) that is mind-blowing. We watch Poots portray Gemma as a sweet teacher who loves children morph into a child-hating mother figure…perhaps Boy represents the cuckoo bird in the beginning. Jennings is incredible, taking on such a nuance-heavy character. I’m sure he’s a very sweet boy, but this kid gave me the creeps immediately! His body language, facial movements, and speech cadence and style all contributed to a performance that sends chills down your spine.
Lorcan Finnegan and Garret Shanley co-wrote this twisty narrative, placing a heavy load on three main characters and all three of them rise to the occasion. Finnegan directs “Vivarium” (look up the meaning of the word for more clarity), with absolute precision. There can be no errors from his chair or the entire feel of the film is lost. As a fan of Serling’s “Twilight Zone” especially Billy sending people to “the field,” “Vivarium” has exactly the same eerie and chilling notes.
Check out “Vivarium” on all major streaming platforms including Amazon and iTunes for only $6.99. It’ll raise a lot of conversation points!