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John’s Horror Corner: Vivarium (2019), a quirky couples’ therapy thriller entrapped in suburban purgatory.

July 28, 2020

MY CALL: Very much like a great episode of Black Mirror (2011-2019), this is a somewhat slow draw of a somewhat uncomplicated mind bender. Not a mind bender in the sense that the threads are pithy and rich (as in Identity), but more like The Voices (2014) in that you follow what’s going on… you just have no clue where this batshit crazy movie is heading. MORE MOVIES LIKE Vivarium: For more couples’ therapy horror, try Possession (1981), Thirst (2009), Antichrist (2009), Spring (2014) or Honeymoon (2014). But this weird film most reminded me of the weird domestic Sci-Horror purgatory of Await Further Instructions (2018).

A youthfully uppety and personable couple, Gemma (Imogen Poots; Green Room, Fright Night) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg; Cursed, Zombieland) are house-hunting so they can take the next step in their relationship. They find themselves paired with a strangely idiosyncratic realtor who shows them what he proclaims to be a forever home. This realtor (Jonathan Aris) is so delightfully alien in his behavior, as if he was emulating a friendly human but didn’t spend enough time studying human behavior or facial expressions. Gemma and Tom are struck incredulous by his weird charm.

During the showing, their realtor disappears and Gemma and Tom find it somehow impossible to escape this housing community of identical, uninhabited homes in the suburbs. They try and try to find their way out until they run out of gas (literally). Eerily they find themselves… trapped.

No matter what logical method they adopt, they cannot get away from this house. Like an episode of Black Mirror (2011-2019), none of their attempts reveal the mystery of their lonely suburban prison. Yet stranger, parcels are mysteriously delivered containing food and a baby boy with a note that reads “raise this child and be released.” Naturally, begrudgingly rearing this child comes with some resentment. Things grow yet weirder, and our couple’s grip on reality weakens as their surreal nightmare continues and their efforts to escape this purgatory prove fruitless.

Their desperation and realizations of futility transmute to mania. But their mania remains somewhat controlled and rational, as they never fully accept their dream-like prison of a life. As strange as this is, it remains grounded and never quite finds complete lunacy. But it comes close… and we awkwardly giggle at what has become their life.

This film is incredibly interesting and incredibly uneventful, but the story does proceed. You feel the mounting stress of Gemma and Tom, you want to know what’s causing all this and you want to know how to stop it. Writer (in part) and director Lorcan Finnegan (Without Name) seems quite comfortable making us wait, and good at cultivating the viewers’ weirded out brainstorming as to what in the world is going on here.

As much as I like this film, I’d be careful recommending it. It’s quite quirky, the pace is far from swift, and it lacks closure in a way that may irritate some viewers. Not this quirky viewer, though. I dug it.

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