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Just recently I reviewed The Art of Self-Defense, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, and here they are again together, in another intriguing indie, Vivarium, from Irish director Lorcan Finnegan. This time the billing is swapped; Poots’ name comes first at the beginning of the movie, the first time I can recall seeing that, and she’s indeed the protagonist, even if her screen time is barely greater than Eisenberg’s. Since he is by far the bigger ‘star’, and since that would, in many circles, grant him the first credit, I like to think that her billing indicates a general sense of decency around the production of this modest film, and, indeed, perhaps Eisenberg himself.
They’re very good together, as a young couple who find themselves trapped in a new housing development being forced to play out a nightmarish version of aspirational peripheral suburban living. It’s Black Mirror adjacent, except that Black Mirror’s loose connective tissue seems to be tales of theoretically near-achievable tech getting nasty, while the plot here plucks a little more at cosmic or unexplainable events. A touch more Twilight Zone than Black Mirror, then, and if that distinction makes perfect sense to you, you’re the intended demographic for this film.
What’s very distinctive about Vivarium’s release in the present moment is how much it reflects that moment. It was clearly designed as a nightmare take on cookie-cutter suburbia and the persistent societal pressure for young people to settle down and procreate, but viewed in Covid-era isolation, it absolutely plays as a tale of the tensions a nice young couple face when forced to live with each other 24/7 in their bland house, small garden and immediate neighbourhood. It’s quite uncanny, a film released in our time, about our time, that was not intended so. Creepy, visually distinctive, and very well acted by the new Lunts of indie cinema, Vivarium will never be more relevant than right now. It’s another timely release from Umbrella Entertainment, who are leading the way in interesting online distribution for the Australian market during lockdown; it can be streamed at http://www.umbrellaent.com.au from April 16th.