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  Vivarium Escape From Suburbia
Year: 2019
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots, Jonathan Aris, Olga Wehrly, Eanna Hardwicke, Senan Jennings, Molly McCann, Danielle Ryan, Shana Hart
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Gemma (Imogen Poots) is a primary school teacher who is looking for somewhere to move in with her boyfriend Tom (Jesse Eisenberg). One day, after school has just finished, she notices a little girl in her class standing alone by a tree, and goes over to check on her to find she is looking down at a couple of dead chicks that have been pushed from their nest by a cuckoo. Gemma tries to explain that this is part of nature, and the girl shouldn't be upset, but her explanation fails to satisfy the girl. Anyway, Tom is here and they are due a visit to the estate agent's, so off they go to a place in town that sounds promising, selling suburban houses at reasonable prices to young couples. Perfect!

But not if you want more from life than bringing up your kids in a suburbia that seems endless - and a trap for any dreams you may have had outside of the usual conventions. That would appear to be the message of Vivarium, a barely classifiable conundrum which took a premise of Luis Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel and updated it to the housing crisis of the twenty-first century, where if you can actually afford your own home it may not be what you want, and more something you have to put up with rather than relax into. In the Buñuel, guests at a dinner party find it impossible to leave, a dig at the bourgeoisie the Surrealists were so suspicious of, yet there was sympathy for the victims here.

Director Lorcan Finnegan came up with the story with screenwriter Garret Shanley for a co-production between their native Ireland, Denmark and Belgium (spot the nods to Magritte in the design), and though the action took place under an expanse of sky, peppered with clouds like wallpaper, there was a sense of being suffocated here. Now, if you like suburbia and living there, and have no problem with a narrow set of rules society places on its expectations for the birth-school-work-death and kids in there too parameters life customarily delivers for the majority of the population, then you will not have much patience with what the conjured up: just quit whining, basically.

Things could be worse, at least you have enough to eat and a roof over your head, yet the horror stemmed from Tom and Gemma's realisation that these trappings were imposed on them both by nature - note the cuckoo analogy throughout - and the lines their communities roll along. In a Twilight Zone twist, once they have reached the home they are viewing, they end up left there by the estate agent (off-kilter Jonathan Aris) and unable to leave. Not through want of trying, but every road they take leads them back to Number 9, the house that may be identical to the others yet has been marked out as theirs regardless, despite them believing it was not for them at first glance and going along with the viewing more out of politeness as anything else. That, it is implied, is how society gets you in its clutches.

It was a striking-looking effort all round, from the pale blue colour scheme of the planet of homes to the infusion of weirdness that invades what appears on the surface to be perfectly unremarkable. Every time you thought Finnegan and Garret were running out of ideas, they came up with a new development to either prolong the suspense or turn the screws on their two protagonists, starting with the delivery early on of a baby. No, Gemma isn't pregnant, but there is a box in the street which holds an infant with instructions to raise it to be released, though you will be aware it doesn't say how they will be released. As every scrap of optimism is stripped away, the metaphor became all the more punishing, and with all the light at the end of the tunnel extinguished over the course of the plot, not everyone would like how this was resolved, even those who recognised it had a point. Poots especially added a dash of humanity to what could have been academic, and it impressed in its dedication to hopelessness. Music by Kristian Eidnes Andersen.

[Released on digital 27th March 2020.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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