Vivarium is a science-fiction thriller that manages to both horrify and entertain the
audience. Being part of the Glasgow Film Festival, the film was introduced by director and writer Lorcan Finnegan. According to him, the film was inspired by Ireland’s housing boom in the 2000s, followed by the subsequent economic crash that led to the phenomenon of ghost towns and empty housing estates. A dystopian version of this is depicted in the film, where the characters of Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) find themselves trapped in a never-ending labyrinth of identical houses. After many attempts to find their way out, it becomes apparent that their only option is to raise a baby in exchange for their freedom.
From Vivarium’s first scene, Finnegan creates a sense of unease in the audience, who are
unaware of the meaning of the film’s initial shot; an extreme close-up on struggling baby
birds, which sets the premise for the dark tone of the movie. The camera lingers on specific shots, like the image of a cigarette stub, two shirts laid out on a bed or the perfectly shaped clouds, carefully crafting an ominous sense of suspense. The film’s use of sound, light and colour creates a surrealist and disturbingly absurd environment, alongside a strong feeling of anxiety. The dark humour of the movie was met with hesitant and then confident laughter from the audience, as one often felt uncertain about whether one should laugh at the couple’s torture.
Although not subtle, the metaphor in Vivarium raises loaded questions about parenting and responsibility, as well as the division of labour between parents. When faced with the horrors of suburbia, cracks start to appear between the couple, leading to Gemma taking up the role of the loving mother, whilst Tom becomes the abusive father. The movie makes the audience question the ethics of their behaviour and the responsibility they have towards their child, who is not biologically their own, acting as a dark satire on parenting in general, as well is the idea of settling down in the suburbs.
Although Eisenberg feels a bit underutilised as an actor since he spends most of the movie digging, his and Poot’s depiction of the couple’s experiences are poignant, especially towards the end of the movie. But it is Senan Jennings and Eanna Hardwicke who truly shine in Vivarium. Both portray The Boy at different stages, and both do a marvellous job of recreating his robotic and alien repetition of his ‘parents’ behaviour. Towards the end of the movie, when things start to click for the audience, his performance becomes even more terrifying.
I left the movie theatre feeling unsettled and confused, exactly how the characters themselves grew to be in this dystopian suburbia. If this seems like the perfect afternoon for you, make sure to catch Vivarium at the GFT from the 27th of March.
More information on the Glasgow Film Festival is available here:
[Meli Vasiloudes Bayada – she/her]