Vivarium Review

I always figured there was no better case for birth control than being on a long flight with someone else’s screaming child. Vivarium ups the ante, finding domestic bliss even more harrowing in this clever yet frustrating Cannes Film Festival selection by Irish director Lorcan Finnegan.

The first shots of the film show some writhing, newly hatched birds in a nest. One, slightly larger, angles its back, forcing its nestmates to fall to their deaths below. Returning to find one inhabitant, the mother bird feeds the survivor as it grows. This cuts to show a young cuckoo bird being raised by another species, nature’s mordid way of forcing parenthood of another’s child on the unsuspecting. This is a central metaphor for a film about the tenuous strains of parenthood, and how such connections are strained by factors outside one’s control.

When we meet Gemma (Imogen Poots) she is a lighthearted school teacher, patiently teaching children and having them roleplay as trees, experiencing waving their arms to feel the freedom of wind going through their branches. Outside there’s Tom (Jesse Eisenberg), a handyman who himself is careless with local wildlife.

The couple are financially strained by the rental market in their area, so they decide to look into a new suburban plan. There they meet a strange man who convinces them to look into a new development called “Yonder.” Driving through the maze of cookie-cutter homes, seemingly unoccupied, they arrive at number 9, where they’re invited into the showhome to take a look. Deciding to forgo. they try to leave, only to find that whichever way they turn, they return back to number 9. Suddenly a box arrives containing a cherubic baby with instructions on the outside indicating they’ll be freed when they’ve raised the kid.

Thus emerges a Twilight Zone-esque film where the conflicts between spouses, the responsibilities of parenthood, the obsessions of housework and the banality of suburban living all coalesce. Much of the heavy lifting is done by Poots and Eisenberg, and the two manage to milk the most out of their twitchy situation.

Unfortunately, as the film goes on and its metaphor is stretched thin, there’s not much more to be gained. Holes only get dug deeper rather than new obstacles to overcome, and the sense of paranoia can only be sustained so long before it becomes more preposterous. Like much of speculative fiction there’s a danger always in the concept being richer than the execution, and certainly that’s the case here. The high-concept beginning simply runs out of steam, making the inexorable ending feeling less cathartic than it should.

For fans of Black Mirror and the like, this will be an enjoyable ride, and the performances alone are worth checking out. Still, it can’t help but feel that despite the perverse perfection of the suburban setting of Yonder, the seams of Vivarium’s construction can be seen, feeling unbalanced and unsatisfying at the finale.

/Film Rating: 6/10

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About the Author

Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor of ThatShelf.com, Features Editor at DTK Magazine and a critic for HighDefDigest.