Jesse Eisenberg as Tom
Imogen Poots as Gemma
Jonathan Aris as Martin
Danielle Ryan as Mom
Senan Jennings as Younger Boy
Eanna Hardwicke as Older Boy
Story by and directed by Lorcan Finnegan
Some pairings in Hollywood are literal matches made in heaven, whether it be performers working with each other, a director reuniting with stars or even actors and actresses finding their genre angle and sticking to it, and Vivarium feels like the beautiful sum of multiple matches, from stars Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots to the latter’s work in the sci-fi and horror genres.
Written by Garret Shanley from a story idea by he and director Lorcan Finnegan, the film follows young couple Tom (Eisenberg) and Gemma (Poots) as they’re in the market for a new house and visit local real estate agent Martin (Aris), who offers them what appears as a dream home in the new neighborhood development of Yonder. As the two feel odd about Martin’s strange behavior, he’s suddenly vanished and they find themselves trapped in the development of identical houses. Struggling to find a method of escape, the two find boxes of supplies and one with a baby in it with the message “Raise the child and be released” inside, which is only the beginnings of their seemingly endless struggles.
The story feels like a brilliant blend of Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone, exploring very real world, and existential, conflicts in the middle of a fantastical story. Teeming with commentary and inspired by the housing crisis in Ireland in the early naughts and themes of isolation and claustrophobia, Shanley and Finnegan brilliantly explore each aspect alongside developing a compelling mystery. The film’s dive into finding one’s identity is truly fascinating, be it as a new couple looking for their first house together, young parents figuring out their place as someone continuing the human race or those struggling with isolation, which proves to be unfortunately ironic in its timing release.
The tone of the film, in which it blends the darker and terrifying nature of the story with its more humorous and satirical elements, proves to be a deft and intelligent balancing act that mostly pays off. While the story doesn’t take advantage of its horror potential as much as it could, but thanks to some quirky and dark humor, dark revelations sprinkled throughout and an ambiguous nature featured throughout, the film proves to be thoroughly compelling and gripping from start to finish, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats.
In bringing the complex and intelligent script to life, Finnegan also has crafted a stylishly directed piece. From its pastel-infused skylines to its seemingly infinite and maze-like neighborhood of look-alike houses to the emotional close-up shots that help evoke the claustrophobic nature of the story and characters’ struggles, it proves to be an artful and well-executed effort from Finnegan.
Finnegan’s skillful direction and Shanley’s intelligent screenplay are further supported by the powerful performances from Eisenberg and Poots, who seem to have reached the pinnacle of their chemistry with this project. Playing off each other well in the more comedic moments while also diving into the more dramatic elements, both tap into their characters and their frantic and confused natures with grace, helping to elevate an already intriguing film to even greater heights.
Overall, Vivarium could have benefitted from a deeper exploration of its central mystery or more terrifying elements, but thanks to an intelligent and captivating script, dark and stylish direction and phenomenal performances from Eisenberg and Poots, this proves to be a fascinating and haunting sci-fi thriller effort worthy of multiple viewings.
Vivarium is set to release on digital and VOD on Friday!