Vivarium review: a terrific sci-fi thriller

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Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots and Jonathan Aris lead the excellent Vivarium, which is now available via digital on demand services.

Here’s one for the diary. Lorcan Finnegan’s slow-burning sci-fi takes aim at the horrors of life that hide in plain sight, and the lives we stumble into that feel impossible to escape. Primary school teacher Gemma (Imogen Poots) and her boyfriend Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) are looking to buy their first home and, after being lured into an open house by hilariously robotic and sinister estate agent Martin (Jonathan Aris), they find themselves in Yonder. The young couple are deserted by Martin in the newly built suburbia, which he suspiciously describes as “near enough and far enough”. The more they try to leave, the more confusing the maze of cookie-cutter houses becomes.

Eventually frustrated and out of gas, they head into one of the houses, and things only get weirder. Underneath the eerily perfect candy-floss-clouded sky, the couple are weighing up their options when a package containing a newborn baby arrives at the door. The plain brown box contains instructions to raise the child in order to gain their freedom. Time works differently in the Truman Show-esque residency of Yonder, and the child is soon well into his teens, whilst its surrogate parents haven’t aged at all. Forced into the supposed domestic bliss of a nuclear family, the couple drift apart, both finding their own ways to cope as they are slowly driven mad by the mundanity of it all and the increasingly warped and empty space around them. Finnegan’s pacing is expertly measured and ominous, as the viewer cries out for answers. Who is this kid? Who will he become? Are they the only ones?

Poots is superb. Another delightfully refreshing horror heroine, she commands the screen throughout every compelling moment as she discovers what the world truly expects of women. In Vivarium, Finnegan paints consistently clever metaphors for the suffocating middle-class conformity of suburban life – a white picket fence has never been scarier. The subdued paranoia slowly sneaks up on the viewer, while this smart science-fiction thriller throws a big middle finger up to the idea of a nuclear family. A unique subversion of the roles we are boxed into from birth, Vivarium could have easily become monotonous, but its wry humour and fantastic lead performances elevate it to become a memorable genre piece. It offers no hope for humanity, but it is thoroughly entertaining.


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