The promise of a cookie-cutter house in suburbia used to be the American dream back in the 1950’s and 60’s. In these modern, uncertain times however, it’s a fitting subject for a psychological thriller.
Vivarium explores the desires and anxieties of young people, but in an exaggerated, surreal manner. Like horror films are supposed to do, it takes a simple concept and runs with it to its most disturbing conclusion.
The film begins with a picture perfect young couple Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) and Gemma (Imogen Poots) looking for a house. They tour a seemingly idyllic planned neighborhood, where all the houses look identical.
After being shown around by a very pushy and peculiar realtor, they find a nice suburban home that seems perfect for raising a family.
However, soon they find that they are trapped in the house, and the once comforting housing development is keeping them trapped in a loop forever. From there, a child arrives in a box, forcing them to become surrogate parents to a child that is bizarre to say the least.
On the surface, Vivarium is a great thriller about the fears and apprehensions of isolation, as Tom and Gemma wonder if they will ever see the outside world again.
However, just beneath the surface lies a fascinating analysis of the stresses of child-raising on marriages, as well as the pressure to conform to society in adulthood.
There’s a common cliché that we all must “grow up” upon finishing high school and/or college and “be an adult” as we enter the working/professional world.
Those critical of this mindset see it as giving up on childish dreams to become old and boring, so to speak. In that respect, the film represents Tom and Gemma as any couple who feels trapped in that lifestyle, as they are literally trapped in the neighborhood.
Difference in Parenting
The introduction of the child (who grows at a rapid rate) also demonstrates another anxiety many couples face upon having children.
Tom is insistent that because the child is not theirs, they should ignore him completely. He then copes by trying to dig a hole out of where they are, but to no avail.
Gemma, on the other hand, acts like the boy’s mother, but becomes very frustrated whenever she shrieks like a banshee, which he does often.
She finds herself shouting, “What do you want?” Most parents of young children would be lying if they claimed they never yelled the same to their own screaming children at one point.
However, the final 20 minutes sort of dissolves all the metaphors and just opts for a surreal and trippy experience.
It’s an interesting ending (which we won’t spoil) that doesn’t really answer as much as the audience may have wanted. But that’s also very much the point.
The point of most surrealist film is to ask questions, rather than answer. And even if all the commentary beneath the surface never comes to full fruition by the end, it doesn’t change the fact that film forces us to explore these same anxieties we may have within ourselves.
Vivarium is a movie that definitely has something to say, but it’s up to audience to determine what that is. And honestly that’s a lot more interesting than the if the film had simply spelled it out for us.
Vivarium is currently available via Digital Download and Video on Demand.