A couple looking to get their first house walks into a real estate office with an over-eager agent who wants to bring them to the perfect house, in the perfect neighborhood, at the perfect price, to raise the perfect family. Getting to the house is only the start of something bizarre and surreal where they learn a lot and go a little mad.
Directed by Lorcan Finnegan who co-wrote with Garret Shanley, Vivarium is an odd dream-turned-nightmare-turned-pure-wtf. It’s a film that has something odd for everyone, something to say about what perfect means and where trying to have the perfect life can lead. It’s about happiness, sadness, madness, establishing your life, what you really want in life, what you are ready to do to reach your best life, and so much more. The story here has layers and layers of depth to dig through and it makes the film one to watch more than once. The direction has a mood of its own and it shows that the director co-wrote the story as there is a closeness to the material clearly showing. This means that the film requires that the viewer pay attention to what is going on even when it seems to be relatively nothing. The characters are few in number and there is a reason for that, it helps concentrate the attention to what is going on. The décor and settings also play with this and help this along.
Playing the two leads here are Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg who create these relatable characters with Eisenberg coming off a bit different than his usual, which is a blessing here. Poots is fantastic as usual, a bit off, a bit different, but she’s the woman that feels like anyone the viewer might know, perhaps even themselves. Eisenberg has his usual quirks dialed down a lot and brings in something that works with Poots’ character. Together they create a believable couple with their issues, but trying to make it through. As they go through the situation they are thrown into, they grow apart, yet together, giving their characters something to care about and making them people to care for. Playing the boy is Senan Jennings who does amazing work at creating this unsettling character with his keeping a straight face through just about anything. His excitement for dogs is just a fantastic little addition to the character that the actor clearly enjoyed going for full on. This kid’s work steals the show more often than not whenever he’s on screen, Jennings’ an actor to watch for to see who he evolves and where he goes from there.
One of the main aspects of Vivarium is the visual one. The décor and the style of everything give the film a particular look that is so important to the story. The housing development where almost everything takes place is designed carefully and shot in a way to make it all look so homogeneous. Each house looks exactly the same with rooms that are super designed and not at the same time. Everything is carefully planned and the images this all creates are something that make the film has a lot more impact than just the characters would have had on their own in a completely different environment. The production design by Philip Murphy is on point here, creating a sort of land of bland, yet a land of careful and thoughtful design. It’s odd to describe in words, but when watching the film, it all makes sense.
Vivarium is a well-planned, carefully executed film that has a lot going on in the background, in the unsaid, and it has a lot to say about current life, about where we are going as a society, and about how important it is to be your own person and have your own thoughts. This is a film that looks to be weird for the sake of being weird, but once started, it quickly becomes clear it’s so much more than that. The story, directing, acting, design, and more are all done with care and with a single idea in mind. The uniqueness and the sameness of everything in the film help push that message. Watching this film while in isolation is something that should help give it a bit more impact, but it’s definitely a film that will have impact no matter when and how it watched. The themes and the perfect casting of the kid, just add so much to everything. The film overall shows how stressors can become exponential when stuck together in a home with only two people including one that is not acting as expected and these stressors can help bring people together for a while, but eventually they can put a serious wedge between people who are normally loving of each other. The ending here is meant to creating a discussion, it’s not entirely expected, not exactly unexpected, it works and it fits with the film as a whole.