Vivarium is more of a bleak, dystopian metaphor for the dreariness of growing up, buying a home and raising children than a standard thriller. But a thriller it is!
Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) are a young couple in the UK who are looking to buy a home. They go to the Sales Office for a new housing estate called Yondor and the realtor, Martin (Jonathan Aris) pursuades them both to visit the estate and look at a home, despite both agreeing they would never live in such a “suburban” place. When they arrive at Yonder they find that all of the houses on all of the streets are exactly the same – mint green 2-storey homes with the same gardens, trees and patch of grass out the front.
Martin takes them to house No. 9, and they wander through it which cements their resolve not to buy a home there. However, when they exit the home Martin has disappeared and try as they might, they cannot leave Yonder as all roads end up back at house No.9. Gemma & Martin decide to sleep in the house and try to do something in the morning. They eat the strawberries and champagne in the fridge but find they are completely tasteless. After a few days of trying and failing to escape, a box arrives outside No.9 and in it is an infant boy, with a cryptic note written on the box. With some reservations, mainly from Tom, they take the baby in and attempt to raise it.
The stress of the situation they are in, combined with disconcerting mannerisms of the child begin to take a toll on Gemma & Tom’s relationship and they begin to drift further and further apart – Tom becomes obsessed with digging his way out, while Gemma tries to help the child. As time passes, more quickly in Yonder than in normal life the child grows up and becomes creepier and Tom begins to resent ‘it’ and the situation escalates to violence which may or may not be the means for their escape, one way or another.
I’ll admit that Vivarium is completely different to what I expected. The Yonder setting is perfectly horrible and clearly a comment on the types of housing estates you see on the fringes of cities where all the homes look strangely similar. The child – the ‘boy’ to Gemma and ‘It’ to Tom has a few weird habits such as screaming like a banshee until it gets food, or perfectly mimicking the couple after they argue. He is also obsessed with dogs and barks quite a bit and he is quite difficult to watch, very disconcerting. I think my main problem with this movie is that it is quite relentless in its portrayal of “grown up life” as being so horribly depressing. It’s an interesting movie to watch, and Poots & Eisenberg do well as the couple caught up in a situation way beyond their control. The actors that portray the boy in the various stages of his life are nightmare inducing but I would have preferred a slightly more nuanced storyline and redemptive conclusion.