Lorcan Finnegan’s Vivarium

Lorcan Finnegan’s Vivarium is one of those films that takes one simple premise and attempts to wring just about as much mileage out of it as one feature length story possibly could and it’s… *mostly* a successful endeavour. As it opens a young lower middle class couple (Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg) are house hunting for something in their price range. She’s an elementary school teacher and he’s a landscaper, relatable choices I admired from the writer, as you don’t normally see this down to earth demographic in the protagonist arena. They browse into a development office for a project called ‘Yonder’, that seems to have units affordable to them, the estate agent (Jonathan Aris) bizarrely informs them, he’s one of those eerily, painfully cheerful characters that you just want to boot in the jaw and trusting him is definitely their first, and gravest mistake. They go with him to Yonder which is basically the kind of horrifying, cookie cutter, piss green pastel suburbia that even Dr. Seuss would shudder at, and before they know it they’re stuck there, for good. It seems to be a kind of labyrinthine ‘living algorithm’ that traps them, and even when they try to drive away they consistently just end up at the house this guy was showing them, and he’s never seen again. What is this place? Can they ever get out? Who is the absolutely nightmare fuelling Little Rascal reject (Senan Jennings, dubbed over with someone else’s impossibly scary voice who isn’t listed anywhere and I’d like to keep it that way) who one day shows up and demands to be fed, cared for and raised as if he were their own kid? I’ll let you come to those answers on your own because it’s quite a fuckin ride. Imogen and Jesse give fantastic performances, stripped of their usual comedic flourishes and trademark mannerisms for two portrayals that are dark, desperate, down to earth, strikingly emotional and show none of their usual personas. The visual landscape of this artificially tranquil doldrum they are stuck in is both beautiful and threatening, orchestrated by something that knows what a human neighbourhood with cloudy skies above it *should* look like but can’t properly make it look that way because… well, you’ll see. The score by Kristian Eidnes Anderson (Von Trier’s Antichrist) is an unsettling aural piece that seems to hang languidly in the very air of this place and emanate from around every spooky deserted suburban street corner, a very effective lowkey composition. Everything works… so why didn’t I like this film as much as I should have? Well.. I can’t say because it’ll spoil the experience but I will say that this is one disquieting, unpleasant, hopelessly bleak tale in terms of thematics. There’s a scene right at the beginning of the film where Imogen teaches one of her students about a particularly nasty reality in the animal kingdom and the kid bluntly observes “I don’t like nature, it’s horrible.” To which Imogen replies, “It’s not horrible all the time.” This is very true, but this film is pretty much horrible all the time and it is essentially the forces of nature simply playing out on a much grander scale, and we have to watch two inherently decent and kind people preyed upon, broken down and used most heinously. To quote that kid: “I don’t like it, it’s horrible.” That’s not to say I disliked the entire film, I just felt like shit after. There is one moment late in the third act where all seems to be lost and Imogen cradles Jesse in her arms as they share a moment of reminiscence back to the day they met. It’s a beautiful, sweet, tender moment that is handled with maturity, gravity and staggering emotional intelligence from both actors but still served to further accent their despairing situation. It’s a good film and everyone involved should be very proud of their work, and I would never lay blame on artists for how *their* narrative and tone made *me* feel, but I’ll sure as hell be honest about it and this one felt like the world just might end.

-Nate Hill

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