‘I’m not your mother…’
As with comedy, horror is subjective. What scares one person can often have no effect on another. I’ve always been terrified of being lost in some vast, unknowable landscape. Alone, confused and dogged by strange noises in the distance and sinister tracks in the mud. The startling success of The Blair Witch Project perhaps suggests that plenty of other cinema goers share this fear. Vivarium takes this concept of being lost (trapped?) and adds cruel surrealism and perplexing twists to produce something that is akin to a long fever dream or a waking nightmare.
Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) are a happy, young couple looking to buy their first home. When they find themselves abandoned by a realtor in an estate where every house looks the same and the clouds are all perfectly shaped, they quickly realise that something has gone very wrong. The arrival of an evil and malevolent child (Senan Jennings) only adds to the torture.
Poots and Eisenberg are a great pairing, with the former trading forced optimism for a dark rage as the film goes on, while the latter becomes more and more beaten down in his quest to dig a hole to freedom. Vivarium is such a bizarre concept that it needs its cast to sell it to make it tenable. Poots in particular throws everything into Gemma, conveying the vast swing of emotions that she experiences from day to day. Senan Jennings, who plays the unnamed ‘child’ is also worryingly chilling. He provides most of the films creepiest moments and is truly an abomination, the epitome of evil. The three together share an uneasy chemistry that is matched by the bright colours, and the jarring score, in scenes that bring to mind Soundgarden’s terrifying music video for Black Hole Sun.
With Vivarium, rookie writer/director Lorcan Finnegan has crafted something insidious, heartbreaking and totally unique. The general consensus elsewhere seems to be that it won’t be for everyone, but if you like horror movies that take a few more risks, then you will surely like this. I loved it.