LFF 2019: Vivarium – Review

Release date – 27th March 2020, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 37 minutes, Director – Lorcan Finnegan

A young couple (Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg) find themselves trapped in a maze of identical houses, forced by a never seen figure to live their lives in one.

From the moment that young-couple Tom and Gemma (Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots) step foot into a creepily symmetrical estate agent, the only member of staff being Jonathan Aris’ robotic Martin, the levels of unease and tension that run throughout Vivarium are firmly established. Throughout the entire film everything never quite feels right, and as the couple soon find themselves stuck in a maze of identical houses. No matter what they try they seem to keep coming across one specific house – the one it seems that the invisible onlookers of the housing estate have designated them to live in.

Soon, the pair find themselves receiving deliveries of tasteless food, packages neatly placed outside their house from more invisible figures, and then a baby. The pair are told, as they become increasingly desperate for escape, that they must bring the baby up and then they can be set free; something which they doubt will actually be the case. The longer the couple spend in the vivarium like residency the more their mental states begin to decline, and they begin to resort to basic animal instincts. While Gemma is able to keep herself slightly sane, Tom finds himself ready to attack, desperate to leave – constantly digging in the front garden in the hope of finding some way of making a tunnel out.

In many ways the slow-burn of the short 97 minute run-time, watching the two central figures slowly go insane and loose their patience and general senses has feelings of The Shining. However, Vivarium is a very matter of fact film, it stays grounded and to an extent relatively realistic, before releasing everything in the final 10-15 minutes. Effectively unnerving, helped by the two strong performances at the centre of the piece, and wonderfully written, tension and mistrust are built up from the very start. In many ways Vivarium shares similar style and ideas with the more horror oriented episodes of Inside No 9. Holding a creepiness and unease that will stick with the viewer long after they’ve left the cinema.

The only thing that the sense of horror gets in the way of is the other tones that the film tries to sporadically introduce. Emotion and humour don’t quite break through in the way that director Lorcan Finnegan and writer Garret Shanley may have hoped. However the general fear factor that the piece so effectively holds is never lost or broken, leading to a crazy, acid-trip like finale filled with scares and originality. The overall film itself might be simple, but there’s no denying the effect that it has. Fuelled by two intense performances and an atmosphere that overflows with creepiness Vivarium is a fantastically made horror filled with tension, fear, insanity and a general state of madness. Nothing will be quite the same by the time it finishes, leaving a cold chill down the back of the viewer long after the credits close.

Insanely creepy and powered by two intense performances, Vivarium is a truly messed-up acid trip akin to an episode of Inside No 9. Taking the viewer for a greatly enjoyable, unpredictable ride of tense madness.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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