Vivarium (4 stars)

Vivarium

Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg are the stars of an ingenious sci-fi satire, from Lorcan Finnegan

The housing development from hell is the setting for a stripped-back, vigorously performed sci-fi satire. Turning an unforgiving lens on parenthood, suburbia and gender roles, the second feature from Irish director Lorcan Finnegan (following eco-horror Without Name) stars Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg as a couple drawn into a hideous alternate reality when they humour an annoying estate agent.

Teacher Gemma (Poots) and gardener Tom (Eisenberg) are a likeable, laidback and easily identifiable pair whose encounter with creepy property pusher Martin (Jonathan Aris) – his every utterance unnervingly off – leads them to visit 'Yonder', an expanse of identikit, alien-green houses arranged in perfectly straight rows. The lack of residents, current or prospective, sets alarm bells ringing. It's a dead-end development from which there appears to be literally no escape.

Neatly written by Garret Shanley, Vivarium makes clever use of what is clearly a low budget, while the soft, dreamy cinematography – courtesy of Spanish filmmaker MacGregor – morphs from hyperreal to haunting. Scenes with 'The Boy' (Senan Jennings as a child, Eanna Hardwicke as an adult – both excellent) see recognisable childrearing challenges fuse eerily well with frightening forays into science fiction, to troubling effect. The film's commentary on what men and women inexorably become when they buy into the suburban dream isn't wildly original, but it's effective and well worked in.

With shades of The Truman Show, Rosemary's Baby and its own darkly oppressive stylings, Vivarium boasts a devastatingly simple concept that's brought to engaging, thought-provoking life by Poots in particular – who believably transitions from delightfully carefree to desperate and downtrodden, as her other half checks out of childcare duties. Parents beware: this one might resonate more than you would like to admit.

Available to watch on demand from Fri 27 Mar.

Vivarium

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 1h 37min
  • Directed by: Lorcan Finnegan
  • Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots, Jonathan Aris

Gemma (Poots) and Tom (Eisenberg) are a likeable pair who meet creepy property pusher Martin (Aris), who leads them to an eerie housing development from which there appears to be literally no escape. Engaging, vigorously performed sci-fi satire with a devastatingly simple concept; not wildly original but effective, and…

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