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  • Gareth Crook

Vivarium (2019)

Jesse Eisenberg is a weird one isn’t he. Good in that Facebook film, probably because he’s as odd as Zuckerberg. Terrible in those Zombie films, but rather good in The Double, a weird Kafkaesque delight. That’s what I’m hoping for with Vivarium, something a bit weird, oddball, quirky. Tom (Eisenberg) and Gemma (Imogen Poots) are looking for a house together. They walk into a branch of estate agent Yonder that promises ‘Quality family homes. Forever’ and get talked into taking a tour by a very unusual salesman, brilliantly played by Jonathan Aris. The Yonder development is a remote neighbourhood of identikit houses, somewhere between idyllic 50s suburbia and the homes in Edward Scissorhands, pastel colours, uniformity. It’s got uncomfortable nightmare written all over it. They’re not keen, get back in the car and.... and I’m hooked. The estate is a deserted maze of houses and they can’t find their way out. Phones have no signal and every street leads them back to number 9 and as night falls, it’s the only house with lights on, so they’re forced to stay. The following day, now on foot having emptied the car of petrol they head for the sun, through the sea of perfect houses looking for a way out, only to find themselves back at number 9, where food supplies have been left. It’s gripping! I love this shit. Tom has had enough and torches the house. As the sun fades and they fall asleep in the street, what follows it’s where things really get fucked up. They find a baby boy in a box outside the still standing number 9, with the ultimatum ‘Raise the child and be released’. What they raise is a weird rapidly growing human like copycat sponge with a disembodied voice. He’s really annoying and screams a high pitched wail whenever he wants feeding and gives them zero privacy. He’s a bit like a bodysnatcher without the pointing. Around 100 days in, Tom starts digging in the front garden, the earth isn’t normal, but then nothing here is. This becomes his obsession as he and Gemma grow apart, their relationship strained by the odd child thing they’re forced to raise. This in many ways is the high point of the film, the monotony and the genuinely unnerving existence they’re trapped in. Indulging the child seems to be the only way out, although Tom is hearing voices now deep into his hole. There’s no news, no radio, just mind warping abstractions on the TV that the child soaks up. It’s a sealed world, the clouds aren’t real, no wind, everything controlled, there’s even echoes as they shout for help, like they’re housed in a giant box. So Gemma entertains the child as he grows to an adult and Tom gets sick as he digs. Unaware of what he’s truly digging and the futility of it. A surreal sequence with Gemma falling through abstract versions of this hellish world brings this bonkers world to a suitably ludicrous finale. Ultimately it’s a bit pointless, a damning observation on the way we live our lives, working, raising children and I can see why it’s been largely panned by critics, but I really enjoyed it. It is weird, it is dark, it is pretty depressing and maybe the journey is more fun than the destination, but the stark aesthetics are cool and plot, although thin is sound. It’s not for everyone, but if you like mysterious, slightly arthouse paranoid cinema, this is worth an eyeball.



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