In a time when our four walls are going to be our best friends for a while, what serendipitous timing that this is the week that Lorcan Finnegan and Garret Shanley’s blissful look at modern suburban living and 21st-century parenting fears is coming out. It’s almost like someone did it on purpose, wouldn’t you say? We digress. Their new film, which has been having stellar responses across the festival circuit in the last six months or so, takes a well-worn narrative – young, idealistic couple navigating the stresses of looking for their dream home – and hits “frappe” on the blender for a strange, intoxicating mix of science fiction, mystery, thriller, and family drama that no-one will be able to stop thinking about after the credits roll.
The young couple in question is Gemma (Imogen Poots), a primary school teacher, and her boyfriend Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) who are beginning to think about the next steps in their relationship including finding a new place for them to live together, which leads them to strange estate agents and its even stranger proprietor Martin (Jonathan Amis) whose company promise quality homes “forever”.
Taking them to a newly built little town of suburban homes that are almost on top of each other, cascading down one seemingly endless street after another, he shows them into No.9 and the amenities the house offers. Crisp, clean and brochure-ready, the couple aren’t fans of its sterile look but before they can say “thanks but no thanks”, Martin disappears but their own exit from suburbia isn’t quite as simple.
Immediate similarities to the film have been made with Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series and, almost from the off, Vivarium does share certain traits with the show but Finnegan and Shanley’s sharp, infectious film is its own unique beast that enthralls and challenges the brain and gives its audiences no clear answers, only subtle clues as to what is going on. You are immediately drawn into the labyrinth maze its filmmakers present and doesn’t let go, only amping up the dread and dark humour even more. There’s much to decipher here, and while not all of the themes blend together as well as Eisenberg and Poots do as actors (both together and apart, with Poots, in particular, a revelation), its imagination is never-ending.
Touching on the anxiety-inducing surroundings of modern culture for younger people – that of buying their first house, financial stability, social media, fears of suburban life and whether they will be good parents – it’s smart, thoughtful writing balances its abstract sensibilities beautifully. Indeed, its production design is a thing of wondrous beauty and plays on the ideas of being trapped in an endless maze or a bad dream, never finding the way out because its repetitive nature stops you from escaping before that too becomes a reality of sorts.
It’s high-concept stuff but for the most part, it works superbly and will only make you ask more questions than you get answers. The best kind of film, then.
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Sci-fi, Mystery | Ireland, 2019 | 15 | Digital (Buy iTunes)| 27th March 2020 (UK) |Vertigo Releasing | Dir.Lorcan Finnegan | Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots, Senan Jennings, Eanna Hardwicke, Jonathan Aris