Vivarium (2019) ☆☆(2/4): Trapped and isolated in hellish suburbia

I usually try not to expect too much from a movie, but “Vivarium” disappointed me a lot in more than one way. While some of you may admire how it willingly pushes its story promise as much as it can within the limits strictly put upon itself, but, in my trivial opinion, the overall result is a barebone horror drama which often bored and annoyed me with its bland characterization and artificially allegorical moments, and I only came to observe its slouching narrative without much care or interest.

Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, who also participated in the production of the film as two of its numerous executive producers, play a young couple named Tom and Gemma, and the opening scene provides us a very little bit of their personal information. While Tom is a gardener, Gemma is an elementary school teacher, and they have been looking for any suitable new residence for them without much success, because, as many of you know, it is always difficult to get an ideal home at a reasonable price.

Anyway, Gemma and Tom subsequently visit the office belonging to an agent of some big real estate company, and the agent happens to have something nice to be offered to them. According to this guy, there is a newly developed suburban area, and Tom and Gemma eventually agree to go there along with him, just because he is quite persuasive to them even though every word and gesture from him is dripping with the creepy awkwardness not so far from that of Stepford wives or those pod people in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956).

That suburban area in question turns out to be pretty wide and big with many houses, which are totally and uncannily identical to each other in style and structure. I will not deny that, as watching these houses on the screen, my mind was instantly taken back to the lyrics of Malvina Reynolds’s immortal satirical song “Little Boxes”: Little boxes on the hillside / Little boxes made of ticky tacky / Little boxes on the hillside / Little boxes all the same…

You would certainly think twice before entering this undeniably creepy and ominous area, but Tom and Gemma follows the agent into this area without suspecting anything, even when they are quite baffled by the apparent weirdness of this area. While the agent told them that this area has been pretty popular on the market, it looks utterly empty and barren without any visible sign of residency, and they come to feel more of that strange vibe as going inside the house offered to them.

Not long after the agent is suddenly vanished, Gemma and Tom belatedly come to realize that they have walked into a sort of paranormal trap beyond their imagination. They attempt to leave, but they only find themselves coming back to the house again and again. They have no choice but to stay in the house, and they later receive a box containing several groceries to eat, which turn out to be as bland as their current surrounding environment.

Quite angry and frustrated about this inexplicable situation, Tom attempts to destroy the house later, but, what do you know, the house is somehow completely restored when he and Gemma wake up on the next morning, and they also receive another box, which contains a little baby boy. According to a message on the box, they may be released in the end if they raise this baby boy for a while, so they obey to this rather sinister instruction.

Not so surprisingly, raising this baby boy turns out to be quite difficult and demanding for them. In addition to growing up pretty fast during next several weeks, he constantly demands food and attention from his adoptive parents, and this increasingly obnoxious prick frequently annoys and torments them in many ways besides his piercing scream, which may remind you of that equally unlikable kid in “The Tin Drum” (1979).

What follows next during the second half of the movie is a series of monotonous moments of exasperation and frustration. Tom finally finds something to focus on as coping with the seemingly endless predicament endured by him and Gemma, but it is pretty apparent to us from the beginning that he will eventually face the futility of his desperate action. In case of Gemma, she seems to make some emotional connection with her adoptive son, but then, of course, this little prick cruelly reminds her again of how much he is different from his adoptive parents.

Although the screenplay by Garret Shanely, which is based on the story written by him and director Lorcan Finnegan, tries to push its story promise harder during its last act, the movie has already been devoid of any narrative momentum, and we only come to see more of same despair and suffocation as already figuring out where the story is heading. Poots and Eisenberg, who previously worked together in “The Art of Self-Defense” (2019), are talented performers to say the least, but their performances are trapped inside their thin and colorless characters from the beginning, and that is the main reason why a certain key scene later in the story feels rather emotionally hollow despite their earnest efforts.

In conclusion, “Vivarium” fails to develop the considerable potentials inside its surreal story promise, and its adamantly dry and humorless approach to its story and characters did not click well with me. To be frank with you, I constantly felt an urge to watch Luis Buñuel’s great film “The Exterminating Angel” (1962), and I wholeheartedly recommend you to watch that masterpiece instead of this tasteless misfire.

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