Updated: Apr 29, 2021
Makes me want to make movies!
Vivarium came across my Instagram feed one day in the form of a really enticing trailer. I showed my girlfriend and we were both sold on it. This film starring Imogen Poots, Gemma, and Jesse Eisenberg, Tom, follows a young couple as they try to buy their first home together. What seems normal at first immediately becomes a mysterious, creepy, never ending nightmare. My girlfriend and I loved it, honestly. I’ve seen Vivarium a few times now and my original admiration for it has dissipated slightly. I still really like the film, but I’ve come to see some flaws in the pacing and general storytelling.
Let me tell you what I like first. The first thirty or so minutes of this 1.5 hour movie have some of the best world building and character development I’ve seen in recent times. Immediately we can understand who Tom and Gemma are and where they are in their relationship. They’re past a honeymoon phase, they’re ready to move-in together and the stress of that venture puts them at each others’ throats a little bit. You can still tell they really love each other and I think that’s some great character. We’re introduced to another character, Martin, who is very off-putting. The acting from Jonathan Aris as Martin is perfect to set up this creepy mystery. So the acting is great, Imogen Poots in particular. From a production value standpoint, you can tell the budget isn’t the highest, the CGI elements aren’t exactly state-of-the-art, but the filmmakers spin that as part of the story. Inside the home, no CGI involved, the color schemes, props and art design is perfect to establish the tone of the film. The outside world is represented so well that we can feel the same confusion as Tom and Gemma. It’s great.
Martin brings Tom and Gemma to his new neighborhood, where people are just about to move-in, but almost immediately disappears. Tom and Gemma try to leave but they find themselves inevitably returning to the same house they toured. They are forced to live there and raise a mysterious, creepy, baby that grows very, very fast. The concept is really clever, the kid is very creepy and all the elements come together for a really creepy, sometimes disturbing story. Where the film fails is in the middle. After a tumultuous, fantastic beginning and knowing there’s a pretty dramatic ending, the middle of the film leaves me wanting more. It’s slow and…nothing really happens. We get more and more slow buildup, seeing this creepy kid grow up as Tom and Gemma struggle to decide whether to raise him well and to maintain their sanity.
The ending leaves more questions than answers as to what sort of creature Martin, the kid and…the others? are. I don’t mind that. It was mind bending and very interesting. I want to know more, but I’m okay with the existential dread of not always knowing. Tom and Gemma never find out, so why should we ever find out? Its unnatural, so I respect that from the filmmakers. Tom and Gemma end up dying and the kid replaces an aging Martin, and the cycle continues.
This film makes me want to make movies because I can really identify the building blocks to their story and understand how they put them together to make the film. There is a lot to learn from it and it inspires me to say, “I can do that too!”
Overall, this film is really good, the audience just needs a little more to happen in the beginning of the film. The messages about domesticity and urbanization are subtle yet prominent. We get it, but if you don’t, you can still enjoy the film. It’s suitably creepy, but won’t make you have nightmares. Some elements of the film can be pretty disturbing, but that doesn’t bother me. As a young filmmaker, the world building aspects and character development are a great example to how to do those things well. Will I watch this film again? Yes. Not anytime soon, but eventually I’ll need some filmmaking advice and this film is a good place to go. Should you watch it? Yeah! If you’re into creepy mysteries, you’ll love this.