A vivarium is an enclosure that holds animals or plants in controlled environments similar to their natural habitats. Vivarium is also the title of the disturbing 2019 sci-fi horror film about a couple trapped in modern day suburbia.

Leaving the Nest

Created by Lorcan Finnegan and Garret Shanley, Vivarium opens with a cuckoo bird pushing robin chicks out of their nest, causing the babies to plummet to their deaths. Cleaning up the mess is Tom (Jesse Eisenberg), a gardener dating Gemma (Imogen Poots), a schoolteacher. Together they’re looking for a house and meet an estate agent named Martin (Jonathan Aris). 

Martin is, for lack of a better term, eccentric. A clean-cut man with combed jet-black hair and bright blue eyes, his off-putting behavior and comments should be enough to turn the couple away. But they’re desperate and he seems harmless enough. So, he leads Gemma and Tom to Yonder, a development with identical cyan-colored homes. After taking a look at House #9, Gemma and Tom decide it is not their style and try to leave. But no matter how many twists, turns and different directions they take, they always end up in front of House #9. 

They’re trapped.

Suburban Vivarium

While stuck in Yonder, Gemma and Tom must play parents and raise The Boy, a baby who grows at a rapidly inhuman rate. He looks and speaks like a mini-Martin, mimicking his “parents'” mannerisms as if he doesn’t have the ability to be naturally human.

As the days go by, The Boy gets bigger and stronger. But the joyless, mundane life is deteriorating Gemma and Tom’s physical and emotional well-beings. A Yonder-sized wedge is lodging itself between their once-healthy and loving relationship. They have no cell service, no books, no internet, no distractions, no friends, no jobs, no escape. The only semblance of entertainment is a nonsensical black and white video of illusive shapes, a video only The Boy seems to understand. No matter what Gemma and Tom do, no matter how hard they try, they can’t seem to escape this living nightmare.

“That’s nature. That’s just the way things are.”

Vivarium is like if Twilight Zone and Black Mirror had a baby and kept it as a pet for ten years. Everything about it, from the dying birds to the predictable but troubling end, is so utterly bizarre. That said, it’s impossible to look away. The blue-green tones and visceral symmetry are captivating, and the storyline becomes more complex with each passing scene. It is a movie with layers, literal and metaphorical. 

The Verdict

The entire time I watched Vivarium, I kept feeling something was missing until I finally realized there is no clear motive for why Yonder even exists. There was no reason for any of it. But maybe that’s the point: not everything has to have a reason. At least not on the surface. This movie asks its audience to pay specific attention to clues, which unveil the secrets behind Yonder and those who control it. Once that secret is revealed, it’s impossible to see the movie the same way.  

Though the ending is maddening and could have been stronger, Vivarium is an entertaining and challenging experience. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen because I wanted – needed- to know what would happen next. 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Photos from YouTube trailer.

About the Author

CourtCourt is a writer, horror enthusiast, and may or may not be your favorite human-eating houseplant.

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