Imogen Poots, Jesse Eisenberg, Jonathan Aris
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… strong sense of visual and genre storytelling succeeds in making both adulthood and the property market intimidating.
Welcome to Yonder; an “idyllic”, cookie-cutter neighbourhood abound in oodles-upon-oodles of unoccupied mint-green houses, windless climates, and an all-consuming silence that would make a library sound like a Metallica concert in comparison.
No lawn left unmanicured nor pillowy cloud appearing out of place, the seemingly perfect town – landing somewhere between Burton-esque Americana and surrealist painting in design – hides with it supernatural undertones that would give The Twilight Zone and Black Mirror a run for their money.
Extracting from this supernaturalism a pointed message about social constructivism, director Lorcan Finnegan crafts an unnerving sci-fi pseudo-horror.
Desperate to own their piece of the American dream and lured to Yonder by request of an uncanny realtor (Jonathan Aris impressively channelling his inner creepiness), young couple Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) find themselves abandoned amidst inspection. Their initial unease transforms into concern as the two budding homeowners find themselves unable to escape from Yonder; their many efforts to leave resulting in their mysterious return(s) to the eerie ‘number nine’ property.
The arrival of a mysterious task offers the once doting couple a promise of freedom…but at what cost?
With Vivarium, Finnegan creates a monochromatic nightmare that offers heavy commentary about free-will and the economic forces which influence domesticity. Held captive and monitored by a mysterious power, the Irish filmmaker embraces genre storytelling to bring these themes to life in a vivid fashion but does so at the expense of tedium.
Where Vivarium succeeds in establishing mood through lurid visuals, it struggles to replicate this atmosphere in Garret Shanley’s screenplay. Vivarium becomes so compelled by a desire to marinate in mood that it stills the water when it ought to splash about in it.
Mystery takes the back-seat in favour of metaphor, with the reason for Gemma and Tom’s entrapment, and their occasional march towards insanity, becoming buried deep in indulgent stretches of irate pondering, overdone absurdity, and derivative writing that doesn’t spin enough intrigue with the material.
Acting in Vivarium firmly hits the mark, with the rag-tag partnering of Poots and Eisenberg – previously having struck gold in the enigmatic The Art of Self-Defense – continuing their run of commanding performances.
Ultimately, Finnegan’s cautionary tale doesn’t entirely become undone by a proclivity to create unease. Wearing its sense of subtext with the swagger of a sold sticker pressed confidently against a for sale sign, Vivarium’s strong sense of visual and genre storytelling succeeds in making both adulthood and the property market intimidating.