An oddly-fitting film for times of isolation, Vivarium is a trippy, slow-burn psychological thriller that takes
some unexpected twists and turns, all while centering around a young couple trapped in a mysterious
From the slightly disturbing opening scene depicting a baby bird being pushed out of its nest by a
cuckoo, one thing is abundantly clear: something in this film is not quite right. Followed by some eerie
but otherwise pleasant scenes of primary school teacher Gemma – played by Imogen Poots (28 Weeks
Later, Green Room) – teaching children about the wind and her dorky gardener boyfriend Tom – Jesse
Eisenberg (The Social Network, Zombieland) – pretending to be a talking tree, things seem to sink back
into a more suburban normal. But not for long...
When the couple find themselves in the unsettling housing estate “Yonder”, populated by identical
empty green houses as far as the eye can see, things quickly take a turn for the surreal as they find out
no matter how far they try to go, they always end up back at the same house – Number 9. The film’s apt
title does well to capture the events to come, with a Vivarium being defined as an enclosure or
container, used for keeping animals (or in this case, humans) under semi-natural conditions (emphasis
on the “semi”).
The premise of the film is clear from the onset – with the disturbing bird visuals in the opening scene
clearly setting up the film’s plot, as Tom and Gemma are tasked with raising a mysterious baby boy
delivered to the house in a cardboard box.
While the film takes some interesting and unexpected turns, delivering some creepy and exciting
moments in the young couple’s twisted journey, there is something left to be desired from Vivarium.
The films second act seems to mimic the characters’ state of isolation, with the monotonous visuals and
repetition a clear narrative motif throughout, but some audiences might find it hard staying engaged
until the end. There are some cool and surprising moments scattered throughout, but a lot of the film,
despite perhaps being a deliberate effect from setting, feels rather mundane and disinteresting.
Despite this, the film is well constructed and otherwise well delivered, with some fantastic
cinematography and surreal visual moments accompanying the compelling performances of Poots and
Eisenberg alongside their rapidly-aging, mystery of a child.
The film in a lot of ways serves as a performance piece for Eisenberg and Poots, putting the two actors in
a fairly plain setting as two very human characters – with their performances in the roles of Tom and
Gemma truly being a make or break point for the film. The two actors do an excellent job of capturing all
the love, hate, support and frustration that comes from raising a child – even if their child is a
supernatural baby boy who ages years in a matter of days.
While the dark and intriguing premise is well set and executed in the film’s first half, it feels a bit lacking
in the climax. Perhaps due to being too high-concept of a pitch, the film’s dark ending left a few too
many questions unanswered – with the bizarrely complicated and surreal world of an endless suburban estate with a perfect sun and identical clouds getting little explanation or closure by the time the credits
Overall an intriguingly dark suburbia nightmare, Vivarium is certainly worth the watch in these
challenging times of isolation. While the unreal twists and turns would leave a mark in the minds of an
audience in any case, it’s fair to say that Vivarium is one of few films that might just be improved by the
current state of the world.
Vivairum is available on Video On Demand via Google Play, iTunes, Telstra, Fetch and Umbrella Entertainment. Coming to Foxtel on Demand from May 6.
About the author
ABOUT THE WRITER: Harry Sabulis is a film, music, theatre and media crazed writer with a passion for all things artsy. A certified nerd and aspiring screenwriter, Harry loves storytelling in all of its forms. You can read some of his film reviews on his blog, Kill The Critic.