VIVARIUM (2019) is a well-executed science fiction film with a simple premise. Starring Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg, it’s stylish and poignant with metaphor, but the simple premise becomes realized too early, testing the viewer’s commitment and interest. Let me explain.
Gemma (Poots) and Tom (Eisenberg) are a young couple interested in buying a house together. Visiting the office showcasing a new development, they meet a strange real estate agent who takes them for a tour only to leave them there. Soon, they realize they’re trapped in a seemingly endless suburb of green houses. Boxes appear on the road, delivering the facsimile of food. Then another shows up, holding a baby and a note saying: “Raise the child, and you’ll be released.” Only the child may not be human…
As a science fiction story, VIVARIUM is intriguing and well done. The only trick is it’s fairly easy to figure out what is happening to them early on, and the plot develops to its conclusion for another hour without much in the way of surprises or character change. Instead, the story appears to rely on its conceit that this is pretty much the life Gemma and Tom would have had anyway, enslaved to children in a cookie cutter suburban home while questioning the meaning of it all.
The storytelling approach–more “short story” than “novel”–may not be enough for some viewers expecting a more traditional story with a stronger plot development and character arcs. The metaphor/theme may also be unsatisfying in that it too manifests very early in the viewer’s mind, basically serving up an allegory, and offers little in the way of solution.
But you know what, despite all that, I liked this one. While not a big winner for me, I found it very watchable, and once I aligned my expectations with what I was getting, I enjoyed it. The stylish but gratingly uniform sets, the weird kid, the acting, little moments where the metaphor resonated, all come together for me nicely. In the end, I wish there was more to it, but I guess that’s part of the metaphor too.