Film (2019). Lovely Productions in association with Fantastic Films, Frakas Productions, PingPongFilm, XYZ Films. Directed by Lorcan Finnegan. Written by Garret Shanley from a story by Finnegan and Shanley. Cast includes Jonathan Aris, Jesse Eisenberg, Eanna Hardwicke, Senan Jennings and Imogen Poots. 97 minutes. Colour.
A young couple (Poots and Eisenberg) encounter an unsettling realtor, who takes them to a housing estate of identical, mint-green homes. After the agent vanishes, the couple are unable to find their way out of the empty estate, soon realizing that they are trapped in a Pocket Universe Prison of infinite suburbia, where escape in any direction returns them to the display house they were first shown. Days pass, with supplies delivered by unseen, perhaps Alien, observers. After becoming resigned to their fate, the couple find a baby boy in a cardboard box, along with the instruction: "raise the child and be released". Domestic purgatory begins.
The alleged horror of suburban living has proven fertile ground for baby-boomer filmmakers such as Tim Burton, Joe Dante and David Lynch. Vivarium offers an update on the theme, functioning as an allegory for millennial-generation anxieties around parenthood and an impenetrable property market. The unnatural child at its heart, which communicates through screams and mimicry, is reminiscent of John Wyndham's children in The Midwich Cuckoos (1957; rev 1958; vt Village of the Damned 1960) (see also Children in SF).
The film is hampered by budget constraints, unfolding much like an episode of The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), but offers a few striking moments of cosmic Horror. Director Finnegan has said he was inspired by the aftermath of Ireland's 2008 financial collapse, which saw young couples marooned in empty estates. By coincidence, Vivarium's release coincided with the onset of another disaster, the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. For an audience under global quarantine, this tale of enforced domestic isolation may have hit a little close to home. [JN]