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"Vivarium" Review

A vivarium is defined as "an enclosure, container, or structure adapted or prepared for keeping animals under semi-natural conditions for observation or study or as pets." It's also the title of an odd fantasy drama starring Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots as a young couple in England or Ireland (it's not specified; nor is how American Eisenberg landed there) who decide to go house hunting and find themselves trapped in a literal forever home. (The definition at the beginning of this review is a huge hint as to what happens.)

After stopping in an office displaying models of the homes on offer, which all look the same, they follow the very oddly-mannered salesman (Jonathan Aris) to Yonder, a subdivision with very suspiciously identical houses. While cookie cutter subdivisions are a long-running thing, Yonder is next level artificial. After a tour of the house with #9 on the door and an a nursery already painted blue for a boy, the couple find their guide has disappeared, leaving them behind. They attempt to leave the sub, but repeatedly find themselves looping back around to #9 eventually running out of gas after driving until after dark.

After staying the night, they climb up on the roof and discover the neighborhood sprawls as far as they can see, one identical row after another. The Sun seems artificial and the clouds are unnaturally uniform. They decide to follow the Sun, climbing over fence after fence (why not use the roads?), in hopes of eventually finding the end of Yonder, but as with their attempt to drive, they end up right back where they began at #9. This time however, there is a box waiting in the street filled with packaged food and toiletries.

A frustrated Eisenberg proceeds to set the house on fire and while they watch it burn from the curb across the street, they fall asleep. When they awake, they find the house is unscathed and another box awaits them. This one contains a baby boy and a note printed on the lid: "Raise the child and be released." We next see the boy being measured against the door frame and while the mark is dated three months later, the boy looks to be about eight-years-old.

In addition to being unnaturally large, the child mimics them or speaks in an adult voice. Other times he shrieks tot bully them into catering to his whims. When he watches television, it's a psychedelic monochrome flashing pattern. Of course, all this weirdness and confinement takes a massive toll on their relationship with him become obsessed with digging a very deep hole in the front lawn, unearthing some non-dirt artificial material, while she attempts to figure out what exactly they're raising.

While the initial scenario of Vivarium piques the interest, it's not long before one starts to wonder where this is all going and what's it supposed to mean? While merely 97-minutes-long, it feels very drawn out and repetitive; it feels as if it could've been if not a half-hour classic Twilight Zone episode, a sub-hour-long Black Mirror installment. Once the premise is set, we're just waiting for it to pay off.

It eventually resolves in a manner that explains the opening nature film passage involving the life cycle of cuckoos, but it's not as much of a twist as it clearly thinks it is as we're too bored to really care in the end.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.


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