I Write These Movie Reviews Locked in the Trunk of Your Car. Thanks for the Snacks!!
Lorcan Finnegan and Garret Shanley
For those of you quarantined in your house for hours, days, weeks on end Vivarium is just the movie for you.
I meant, for those of you quarantined in your house for weeks, days, hours on end Vivarium may not be the movie for you.
That’s not to say it’s a bad movie, for it’s one of the most unsettling movies of 2019. It’s just that seeing other people trapped in a house they can’t get out of may not be someone’s cup of tea right now. But most of you are adults and it’s so much better than wasting your money renting Onward or Bloodshot time and time again.
Then again, an existential horror movie is nothing compared to a trip to the grocery for some of you and seeing someone else’s horror may just be what you need. If you wasted your time with the shallow The Hunt last week, then you have no excuse not to see Vivarium. Who knows? Maybe by the end of this review you might be able to print out a coupon for some free toilet paper.
Then maybe by the end of this review you might find something that will make you smile, like a picture of a kitten.
That kitten took the last rolls of toilet paper. Let the chaos ensue.
Vivarium opens with a bunch of baby birds getting fed by their parents. It’s just so adorable and not foreboding at all.
We’re in a country not the United States because the steering wheel is on the other side of the car. We meet Gemma (Imogen Poots from last December’s limp Black Christmas remake). She’s a kindergarten teacher teaching her students to become trees in the wind, like Jodie Foster in Nell, but instead of Liam Neeson you get Jessie Eisenberg.
That’s a fair enough trade, I guess…
Being a kindergarten teacher is not all fun and games and pretending to be trees. Gemma has to teach her kids some of the harsh realities of life as she calms down a little blonde girl (Tom Holland) who just found some dead baby birds on the ground and that her uncle is exposing himself to her. Eww.
Could those be the baby birds from the opening credits? (spoiler) Yes.
These dead birds will be the only negative thing to happen in this movie, unless one of the main characters plays a gardener.
Gemma has a boyfriend named Tom (Jesse Eisenberg- Zombieland 2), and he’s a gardener at the school where Gemma teaches.
Yes they are, but let’s enjoy these final moments of relative happiness between Gemma and Tom.
Gemma and Tom have been together for a while now. They’re starting to search for a house together. You get the feeling that they’ll end up getting married and having children in the future.
One step at a time. First they need to find a house they’ll love at a price they can afford.
They end up at a real estate office for a development named Yonder, which is a much less ominous name than You’re All Going To F*cking Die. They meet a very, um, attentive agent/tour guide named Martin (Jonathan Aris). Martin strong arms them into taking a tour through Yonder. Gemma and Tom reluctantly agree but figure they don’t have much to lose.
Martin show the happy couple property #9. It has everything you’d want in a house. Gemma and Tom notice that all the houses look the same, all painted the same garish color of green, and that there are no black people around.
Come to think of it, there are no other people around. But if there are no black people, who’s going to die first?
We just don’t know. We do know that Tom and Gemma are really itching to get out of Yonder, to get out of this freaky green neighborhood and get away from Martin. If Wes Anderson was a real estate agent, he would be Martin.
Gemma and Tom are touring the house when they realize Martin has disappeared. His car is gone and they didn’t hear him take off. Nothing too bad about that. He was getting on their nerves anyway.
Gemma/Tom get back into their car to leave Yonder and never visit again.
The only problem is that they can’t seem to find the exit. They are literally going in circles and always end up at #9 no matter where they go. There must be a rational explanation for this. But there isn’t, like someone thought it would be a good idea for Jesse Eisenberg to play Lex Luthor. Probably the same people or aliens or things that created Yonder.
Tom/Gemma enter #9 and wait for what Yonder has in store for them next. Maybe this is just a shared nightmare that they’ll eventually wake up from, but probably not.
Moments later, they see a box filled with food and basic supplies.
Then things get really weird. And by weird I mean horrible.
What Works With Vivarium
- Jessie Eisenberg and Imogen Poots starred in last summer’s excellent dark comedy The Art of Self-Defense. Vivarium is about 2 shades better. Their relationships in both movies are completely different but equally convincing. They should make more challenging movies together.
- Writer/directed Lorcan Finnegan and co-writer Garret Sharley make Vivarium as unpredictable as any movie, horror or otherwise, released in the past couple of years. You might think you know where the movie is going, but you’re probably wrong. Even if you do predict some mundane plot point, it’s never arrived at in an obvious way. See this movie if only for its originality. Plus, you get to know what “vivarium” means.
- As stated, Poots and Eisenberg are uniformly great together, but Vivarium’s best performance goes to Senan Jennings as “Young Boy”. Every time YB opens his mouth you just want to throw him out of a speeding car, watch him roll on the concrete, then reverse and run him over with said car. YB is as grating as the little kid in The Babadook but a degree less annoying. Even if you like kids, you’ll probably identify with some of the characters’ darker choices.
What Doesn’t Work With Vivarium
- As mentioned before, Vivarium is about people stuck in a house with no viable means of escape. That may not feel entertaining to some people for whatever reason. Go rent Call of the Wild or something else you’ll forget about when the credits roll. Love it or hate Vivarium, you won’t soon forget it.
If you’re trapped in a house and would like to see other people trapped in a house but in a more dire predicament than you, then Vivarium will hit your V-spot. If you want to see an unsettling horror movie and are a fan of green houses, Vivarium is also the movie for you. Just don’t get too attached to the birds. Or the people. Or pastels.