We have been getting a lot of surrealistic horror movies lately and that makes me very excited about where the genre is heading. However, the problem with such movies is a tendency to get drifted away and give surreal imagery with no meaning or metaphors supporting it. Vivarium (2019) is, unfortunately, exactly that in strong measure. It has far too many themes and somehow, they feel heavy-handed and unimpactful at the same time. I know what the movie is probably trying to say but at the same time, there isn’t much evidence for it. The movie is ambiguous but at the same time isn’t supportive of the multiple themes it’s trying to contain. I can even imagine this movie thoroughly frustrating audiences and making them feel it was a complete waste of time. Fortunately, being a massive fan of cinema that was arguably not the case.
The cinematography is great, and I never felt any shot was throwing me out of the moment. The surreal has been captured in very subtle nuances which due to spoilers I won’t dive deep into. Also, a big contributor to the visual aesthetics is the occasional CGI and the production design of the neighborhood itself which feels wide open yet claustrophobic.
The characters themselves are well written especially Gemma played by Imogen Potts. And to the writer’s credit, they try everything the audience thinks they should in a situation like theirs. They do not make any dumb choices throughout the runtime and do their absolute best to make it out of the situation. It feels nice to have sensible characters try their best even if they fail repeatedly. That’s what makes it a real struggle.
And finally, the performances are great, again with an emphasis on Imogen Potts. Just the sheer range of emotions she displays on screen is worthy of tons of praise. Jesse Eissenberg tries his hardest to come out of his template but there are a few key scenes where he, unfortunately, falls flat. It is still a great performance by him and probably the most unlike him I’ve seen in a long time. I look forward to seeing his 2019 film, The Art of Self Defense.
Finally, Vivarium (2019) makes you uneasy at first but is ambiguous in all the wrong ways and expects the viewer to not ask any questions by the end. It has too many themes with too little substance for any impactful message and is only tolerable for the performances on screen and the visual aesthetics.
Watch Imogen Potts talk more about this movie here.