VIVARIUM: Stranger Than Strange

Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots star in this bizarre thriller from director Lorcan Finnegan. Gemma and Tom are about to purchase their first house together and after visiting a strange real estate agency, are brought to see one in the up and coming project neighbourhood of Yonder. The realtor takes the couple to house marked with number 9 but then mysteriously disappears and the couple find themselves unable to find their way out in the maze of identical, creepy houses. Forced to spend the night, the couple are alarmed but all hell breaks loose when they find supplies and a baby outside the next day with a note ordering them to raise the child.

There are very few words that can be used to describe Vivarium, or at least very few that would quite get just how weird, but oddly fascinating this film is. There is much to unpack here and several re-watches are a must.

Strange Just To Be Strange

The imagery Finnegan creates on screen is alarming and odd, almost uncanny. Sometimes it feels like Vivarium is strange just for the sake of being strange and it can be off-putting at times, almost as if there’s no meaning behind the images, no ground zero from where to begin.

VIVARIUM: Stranger Than Strange
source: Saban Films

The reason why Vivarium works as well as it does is all down to Poots and Eisenberg, both whom are simply superb here. Poots is the standout as the film becomes more and more about motherhood, but Eisenberg provides reliable support and he brings Tom’s increasing obsession and hostility to the screen well and in an engaging manner.

Poots’ role is a much more demanding one as she is forced to become a mother of sorts for the child. The child is truly the child from hell; quirky, annoying and weirdly entitled, but Gemma’s natural instincts kick in and she is stuck between caring and hating the child. Poots portrays this internal conflict beautifully and with grace, always ensuring we understand Gemma’s perspective and how much pain she is in.

Surrealism On Screen

Just as Vivarium seems to run out of steam, Finnegan switches gears and the film becomes an intense, surreal nightmare. The child has now grown into an adult man and the previously distanced Tom and Gemma find solace in each other while fearing the strange adult they have somehow raised in hellhole no.9. Things take a turn for the worse, no spoilers here though and even though Vivarium is a surreal film from the start, things become even weirder towards the end and much more terrifying.

VIVARIUM: Stranger Than Strange
source: Saban Films

The film is weirdly anticlimactic, there are no big fights here, no heroic moments, just quiet devastation and misery. Somehow, this is much more potent and effective. Gemma and Tom’s traumatic experiences in Yonder are depressing and while it all leans heavily into science-fiction, Finnegan touches upon some real anxieties about parenthood. What if the child I’m raising is a monster? What makes a monster? Is all life just a cruel nature vs. nurture experiment designed by some kind of sadistic overlords? I have no idea and neither does Vivarium, but it does manage to fascinate more than confuse.

VIVARIUM: Stranger Than Strange
source: Saban Films

Vivarium shines brightest when it examines these fears about parenting and raising a child. Gemma and Tom are both forced into a situation where they have to raise a baby which isn’t their own and more than likely to be of supernatural origins. They both react with disdain, horror and even fear but Gemma also tries to teach the child and find its possible humanity, whereas Tom becomes more and more withdrawn and angry about the situation. It’s a situation which spirals further and further out of control, but never loses the audience even if Finnegan’s stylistic choices seem infuriatingly out there sometimes. All the strangeness rings a little hollow and the film at time feels like it’s rushing towards absolutely nothing. I’m not sure the finale really proves this wrong either.

Vivarium: Too Strange Or Delightfully Weird?

Vivarium is a strange beast and not everything works within its bizarre world, but it’s an endlessly compelling watch. Finnegan clearly loves to project surrealism onto the silver screen, as was also apparent with his debut feature Without Name, but he still has some way to go with creating meaning behind the infinite weirdness.

Led by strong performances from Eisenberg and Poots, Vivarium is certainly worth a watch. It will probably require several of them in fact to truly unpack all the secrets hidden in the identical houses of Yonder.

Did you enjoy Vivarium? Let us know in the comments!

Vivarium hits cinemas March 27th in the US and the UK. Check out other release dates here.


Does content like this matter to you?

Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.

Join now!

Posted by Contributor