18 April 2020
Vivarium plays like an extended episode of Twilight Zone set inside The Truman Show. Much like its setting, it’s a claustrophobic sci-fi oddity that works better as a horror. Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg are Gemma and Tom, respectively. She is a kindergarten teacher and he is a gardener. While househunting they come across a new development called Yonder, “neither near nor far”. Yonder is a maze of green identical houses, all picture-perfect, beneath a pastel-coloured artificial sky. Gemma and Tom know something is off, but they brush it off as just another example of suburban hell. However, they soon realise that it’s more purgatory when Martin disappears and they can’t find their way out of Yonder.
And this is the first day of the rest of their lives. Soon, they receive a box of tasteless food and then a baby, whose metabolism is as fast as a dog. Within three months, the baby becomes a rather odd pre-teen. Gemma and Tom try to escape, but all their attempts end up back to their new home.
The film, which feels whimsical (very Michel Gondry) in the first half, but turns incredibly bleak in the second half and becomes one of the most depressing horror films I can remember. The ‘feelgood’ cinematography’s contrast with the happenings on the screen isn’t a subtle touch, but it’s effective. It doesn’t really deliver the why (or the how), but the what is shocking at every turn.
Despite sagging slightly in the halfway mark, I love tis weirdness and inventiveness.