Last year, Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots co-starred in one of the best films you likely never saw. That was The Art of Self-Defense, among the most underrated movies of 2019 and a truly terrific tale. Today, they team up again in a similarly unique title, though subject matter wise, it’s as different as can be. Both are terrific though, suggesting that a pairing of Eisenberg and Poots is a consistently strong recipe for success. The collaboration is in Vivarium, an exercise in weirdness that quickly becomes hypnotic. Hitting Video On Demand today, it’s another very strong option for new release viewing this weekend.
The film is a hybrid of science fiction and horror, with a deceptively simple premise that turns into anything but. Young couple Gemma (Poots) and Tom (Eisenberg) have been looking for a house for some time. When they visit an odd real estate agent (Jonathan Aris), he brings them to a planned community called Yonder, purportedly a perfect “forever” home, which they’ll soon learn is quite literal. You see, when they try to leave the community, they find that to be quite impossible. No matter what they do, they return to the home, which is set up for them to live. Then, a baby arrives at their door, with instructions to raise the child in order to be released. The kid quickly grows into a young boy (Senan Jennings), and then continues to rapidly age, while Gemma and Tom attempt to figure out their situation. Then, if you can believe it, things get actually weird. Lorcan Finnegan directs a screenplay that he co-wrote with Garret Shanley. The small cast also includes Eanna Hardwicke, among others. Kristian Eidnes Andersen composed the score, while the cinematography is by MacGregor.
Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots are their reliably good selves here. In fact, Poots shines the brightest, having the slightly more complex role to play. Their characters evolve quite a bit over the course of about 90 minutes, with both of them ably displaying the changes in subtle ways. Eisenberg has a more physical role than you’re used to seeing from him, while Poots has to run the gamut of emotions. Clearly made on a budget, filmmaker Lorcan Finnegan focuses in on the two of them, with the concept and unusual visuals building on their work. It’s a choice that really pays off, too. Everything mixes in a consistently interesting manner.
Vivarium stuffs a lot into a fairly short running time. It likely will perplex as much as it compels, but it’s done with a goal in mind. Finnegan brings a Kafka-esque quality to his characters’ predicament. About halfway through, things take a turn into the bizarre, but by that point we’re so well prepared for anything to happen that it’s easy to accept. Interestingly, the resolution is far different than expected, and may prove divisive, but yours truly found it to make sense for what the scenario is actually presenting. Think about what the title means and it probably won’t be a huge surprise.
Today, you can see Vivarium on your favorite VOD platform. For such a small film, the ambition within it is actually quite noteworthy. It’s the rare sci-fi flick that actually manages to be rewarding in its confounding nature. To be sure, it won’t be for everyone, but I found it to be a real dark blast. Just don’t expect anything particularly like what Eisenberg and Poots are usually in. It’s decidedly a thematic change of pace. Give it a look and see what you think…
Be sure to check out Vivarium, available On Demand now!
(Photos courtesy of Saban Films)