VIVARIUM movie poster | ©2020 Saban Films

VIVARIUM movie poster | ©2020 Saban Films

Rating: R
Stars: Imogen Poots, Jesse Eisenberg, Jonathan Aris, Eanna Hardwicke, Senan Jennings
Writer: Garret Shanley
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Distributor: Saban Films
Release Date: March 27, 2020

VIVARIUM begins with the spectacle of a young cuckoo chick shoving other baby birds of another species out of a nest so that it can get the other chicks’ parent’s food all to itself. This beginning is in one way a literal representation of what we’re about to see, but in another way, it’s inexact.

VIVARIUM movie poster | ©2020 Saban Films

VIVARIUM movie poster | ©2020 Saban Films

We meet good-hearted elementary school teacher Gemma (Imogen Poots) and her landscaper boyfriend Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) as they’re thinking about buying a house together. They wander into a real estate office and meet the unctuous agent, Martin (Jonathan Aris). He represents a new housing development, Yonder. All of the houses on display in the office are identical, down to the unusual paint color. Martin says the places are affordable, but going fast.

Martin has Gemma and Tom follow his car in Gemma’s vehicle, and leads them to the house he wants to show them. It is an exact copy of all of its neighbors in the tract, green exterior and blue interior. The layout is nice enough. When Gemma and Tom are done exploring the dwelling, they discover that Martin has left without saying goodbye. So they get back in Gemma’s car and drive … and drive … and drive … without being able to find their way out of the lookalike streets. Exhausted and out of gas, they return to the house they visited earlier. Soon, there’s a box outside.

VIVARIUM movie poster | ©2020 Saban Films

VIVARIUM movie poster | ©2020 Saban Films

Directed by Lorcan Finnegan from Garret Shanley’s screenplay, VIVARIUM keeps us guessing as to how things will play out. We’re continually intrigued, which is a feat made more impressive by the confines of the location and the relatively limited number of characters. Poots and Eisenberg make us care about their characters, helped by the fact that these people are both affectionate and possess lively curiosity. It also is an asset that, after the first questionable choice to investigate Yonder in the first place – we know that house prices are exorbitant, but both Martin and the housing tract are noticeably weird – Gemma and Tom take actions that are all understandable. Eanna Hardwicke and Senan nings are both excellent in demanding roles.

VIVARIUM is divided into sections marked by climactic blackouts. This device works well to help us navigate shifts in the action. The filmmakers are expressive throughout, without relying on exposition. They also adeptly build to moments of organic horror.

Still, VIVARIUM winds up feeling a little less satisfying than it ought to be. Themes are introduced without being explored in enough depth for them to resonate. Although the finale is properly set up, by the time we reach it, we feel more like we’ve watched a skillful, clever short than a full feature.

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