Jul 12, 2020

Strange but relevant thriller dramedy.


Grade: B

Director: Lorcan Finnegan

Screenplay: Finnegan, Garret Shanley

Cast: Imogen Potts, Jesse Eisenberg

Runtime: 1 h 37m

Rating: R

By: John DeSando

“How did I get here? … This is not my beautiful house.” Talking Heads

Vivarium should be dedicated to all the couples who have ever searched for the perfect home. Too often the house turns out not to be perfect, and the additional turn of the screw is that sometimes it’s in a remote suburb because that’s where they can afford. As this challenging horror dramedy shows, the cost for the isolation from society may be too much to bear.

Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) and Gemma (Imogen Poots) meet a strange broker, Martin (Jonathan Aris), who takes them to an eerie tract of affordable homes that digitally stretch for miles in equal measure in every way. It’s almost as if Rod Serling were there to warn the couple that they are entering the Twilight Zone. Poots’ naturalism and Eisenberg’s nebbishness keep the audience guessing how this Everyman and Everywoman can escape such a bleak world.

Not lost on the multi-interpretive side is the feeling that this chiller could have been made in the last three months given our quarantined worlds confined to four walls and designed by an unforgiving virus. The uniformity and monotony of the houses and the landscape presage a loss of sanity for this otherwise normal couple, if not the audience.

Director-writer Lorcan Finnegan and co-writer Garrett Shanley are careful not to closely imitate Serling’s pacing and not to overplay the allegorical implications. The story does unfold slowly, a distributed exposition so to speak, wherein each small detail helps create a dread from which the couple may not be able to escape. They can’t find the exit and end up back at # 9. No exit.

Not only does the motif of the imprisoning suburbs emerge, but also the arrival of a baby out of nowhere (like a Fed Ex or Amazon package), begins a veiled argument about babies imprisoning young parents.  For a hip couple, tending the baby is a chore, especially when he grows up to become morose and eventually life endangering.

While the filmmakers of this slow-burning dramedy succeed portraying the banality and danger of suburban life, at the same time the audience can identify with the couple enough to wish for their release. In fact, Tom has dug a big hole in the front yard to find, who knows what, escape?

Netflix has released an odd thriller, unforgettable in its weirdness and contemporary resonance.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at