Savannah Chess discusses how Vivarium depicts suburbia, children, marriage, and the horrific trap of it all.
Many view the American suburbs as a utopia between the bustling city and the tranquil countryside. Co-writer and director Lorcan Finnegan and writer Garret Shanley reveal the true horrors behind those picket fences in the science fiction mystery Vivarium. Starring Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, the story boasts captivating visuals and a unique spin on suburban horror tropes.
Tom (Eisenberg) and his girlfriend Gemma (Poots) are looking for their first home together when they come across the idyllic suburban neighborhood of Yonder. While Martin (Jonathan Aris), the community’s unnerving and peculiar sales agent, takes them to view one of the model homes, things take a strange turn. After the couple explores the rooms within the home, they return to the kitchen, where they expect to reconvene with Martin, only to find he has abandoned them within the rows of identical pristine houses. Unable to find their way out after countless hours of driving, walking, and climbing rooftops, they are forced to remain in the model home indefinitely, but not without one last surprise. When a box with a seemingly normal baby inside finds itself in front of their new home, they are given one instruction: “Raise the child and be released.” However, as nothing else in Yonder is as it seems, the child (Senan Jennings) grows into a devilish nightmare the couple is desperate to escape.
Cinematographer MacGregor creates a visual spectacle through his use of unique shots and vibrant alluring hues. The aerial views of the never-ending, monopoly-like sprawl of homes are beautifully done and evoke a very eerie sense of hopelessness. MacGregor mastered this sense of hopelessness perfectly throughout the film, from simple scenes of the monotony of brushing teeth to tirelessly digging a hole in the backyard. These visually fantastical moments, coupled with Tony Cranstoun's edits, evoke a sinister feeling. MacGregor's transition shots portray the young boy's rapid growth, effectively organizing the film by the different stages of parenthood that Tom and Gemma experience. Ultimately, it all comes together, creating a fever dream of red and blue hues, overlapping images of other dimensions, and an impending sense of doom.
Vivarium also touches on the reality of being a homeowner. Gemma, like many, dreams of owning a home only to face the harsh truth that comes with it: a mortgage. A mortgage is like a prison that locks buyers into a contract they are forced to pay back for decades, often trapping individuals in jobs they hate to afford monthly payments. Finnegan doesn’t hold any punches when highlighting the bleak outlook on the American dream.
What makes this film different from many other films depicting the horror of suburbia is its use of an acute fear: the mundanity of settling down and feeling stuck. Films like A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Poltergeist (1982), and The ‘Burbs (1989) are also set in the "safety" of the suburbs, yet attain scares with masked killers, ghosts, and the fear of Satan. Vivarium sets itself apart by being a horror movie that doesn’t rely on jump scares and supernatural entities but rather on the fears associated with real life.
Vivarium is intelligent and gripping with a unique narrative and a stellar cast. The film brings attention to the growing concern from younger generations who fear settling down within the confines of a white picket fence and having children, not out of desire but out of the societal pressure that poses it as their only option. Finnegan brings that terror to life without using jumpscares or excessive gore, offering a refreshing take on suburban horror.
Vivarium is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.