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House of horror in Vivarium

Claustrophobic tale of a couple trapped indoors may be unfortunate timing, but film starring Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots – streamed from today (Friday) – is a chilling triumph

27 March, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots as Tom and Gemma in Vivarium

Directed by Lorcan Finnegan
Certificate: 15

WE could all do with a bit of cheering up, right? We could all do with some cinematic escapism, a film that reminds us of how the world looked and felt just a few weeks ago, one to help remove us from the realisation that our world is rapidly looking like something from a sci-fi nightmare horror.

So you’d think the studio behind Vivarium might have felt delaying the release of this chillingly good creepfest wasn’t a bad idea – especially when it features a couple who end up in a hyper-version of stay-at-home isolation millions are currently experiencing.

But no – Vivarium, a brilliant horror, is being streamed from Friday… and it will be a test of your ability to separate fiction from fact.
Gemma (Imogen Poots) is a happy-go-lucky primary school teacher, in love with her job, doting on the gorgeous little nippers, and set up nicely with handyman, gardener and all-round good guy, Tom (Jesse Eisenberg).

They want to make a home together and can see the road ahead mapped out for them: a meandering avenue through life’s happy valley, passing the landmarks of marriage, children, growing old together, all wrapped cosily up in a blanket of true love.

They’ve been looking for a house to buy – but as anyone under 40 will recognise, it’s not easy to find something that isn’t a hole in the ground on the wages they earn.

So when they pop into an estate agent who is somewhat insistent on showing them a new, apparently perfect, house in a suburban new-build estate called Yonder, they have difficulty turning him down. They think: what the hell, it’s an hour’s jaunt in the car and what have we got to lose?

The answer is quite a lot. Yonder proves to be more than just a Brookside-style nightmare: there is something much more sinister lurking in the identikit streets, the back-to-back semis, and the pristine, uniform lawns and gardens.

This is a horribly wonderful horror. Esisenberg and Poots are well cast and they have just the right amount of disbelief to help the viewer suspend their own.

Clearly placed in the same genre as Black Mirror, Tales of the Unexpected and Get Out, this is a thoroughly modern piece of storytelling.

At times it is truly brutal on your nerves, the sense of claustrophobia is like taking Acid and getting lost in Ikea. It also bizarrely manages to raise the odd chuckle at how utterly horrific the premise is on a psychological level.

Vivarium is a masterpiece of set design, too – there’s a dream-like, otherworldliness to the characters you need to be wary of, and the architecture from hell they find themselves locked into.

With this all in mind, now might not be the best time to watch Vivarium – its cinema release has, of course, been delayed due to the coronavirus crisis, and instead it is being given its debut via various streaming platforms. It’s a vile experience, which is testament to how good it is. Watch with trepidation.


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