DIRECTOR: LORCAN FINNEGAN | SCREENPLAY: LORCAN FINNEGAN, GARRET SHANLEY | STARRING: JESSE EISENBERG, IMOGEN POOTS, JONATHAN ARIS | RELEASE DATE: MARCH 25TH
Staying true to its dystopian convictions, Vivarium (literal meaning: ‘an enclosure for keeping animals under semi-natural conditions for observation or study’) tips its hat to the classic Twilight Zone, specifically Rod Serling’s favourite rug-pull: the suburban haven that bites back. It’s a decent peg for social satire of course - The Stepford Wives (1975) and The Truman Show (1998) both put their protagonists into similarly ersatz idylls to rage against the consumerism eating away at modern life. With its savage mockery of our homemaking aspirations, Vivarium initially feels like it’s been cut from the same cloth, but does its own thing too with mixed results and overgrown babies.
Jessie Eisenberg and Imogen Poots play Tom and Gemma, a young couple on the brink of buying that life-changing first home. Priced out of the regular housing market, they allow a deeply unconvincing estate agent (Jonathan Aris) to lead them up the proverbial garden path to a new development called ‘Yonder’, which is completely deserted and full of identikit houses that look like streets from Trumpton. This is the point where you or I would take one look at the place and get the hell out, but this pair are a bit thick and go for the tour option. Lo and behold, all is not what it seems, and the gullible twosome are soon prisoners in a labyrinth of blandness. Serves them right, frankly.
Everything they do to try and escape, including an attempt to burn their house down, fails miserably. In frustration, Tom starts digging a hole for himself (clunk!) but the soil isn’t real and neither is the sun that beats down on them. Then more plot happens that pads things out quite a bit from what is really just another Twilight Zone episode’s worth of SF concept.
Lorcan Finnegan’s direction of his script just about gets the job done but drops the ball with an estate agent character who appears to be auditioning for The Wiggles. Imogen Poots is a fine actress and goes to pieces rather brilliantly, and Jesse Eisenberg sucks the air out of every scene he’s in, which may or may not be brilliant acting. Production-wise, this isn’t a case where it can be said that the Ireland-based creative team have worked miracles with no money, as the whole production feels a tad bereft. As thought-provoking as Vivarium is, Rod Serling had it right with his 25-minute masterpieces: any longer and the stuffing flies out.