*. Vivarium is part of the New Weird in terms of genre, meaning it’s a mix of dark fantasy and SF. Whenever I get into a NW book or movie I suspect some kind of allegory is intended. I think that’s the case here as well, but it falls short.
*. Here’s the story (read no further if you want to avoid spoilers). A young, unmarried, childless couple — Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) — go to a new townhouse development named Yonder, a place which makes the usual “cookie-cutter” appellation seem quaint. After a brief tour their creepy guide leaves them, and they find out they’re trapped. No matter how far they walk or drive, or in what direction, they always end up back at Unit 9. They are the only people around. No cell phone coverage, naturally. Boxes are dropped off with food and other supplies. Then a baby arrives. They are told to raise it. It grows up quickly, and gives signs of being some kind of alien life form despite looking human. Then Tom and Gemma die and their now adult (adopted) son goes to work in the same real estate office that they visited at the beginning.
*. Allegories have two levels of interpretation. On the literal level, as far as it is explained, Yonder is an extra-dimensional space constructed by aliens, or some other species native to Earth but unknown to us, whose purpose is to force humans to raise Yonder young.
*. Just on the literal level my basic problem is the same one I have with most such alien movies, or movies involving supernatural creatures like devils or demons. If these other beings are so smart/technologically advanced/powerful, then why are they wasting their time preying on humans? Don’t they have better things to do? The Yonders put all this effort into building their nests just to end up dressing like Mormon missionaries and selling real estate? I guess cuckoos have no imaginative life of their own, but these particular creatures are technologically sophisticated and even write books. They have a culture. So I don’t get it. Their existence seems far more complicated and even less fulfilling than Tom digging a hole in the yard.
*. That’s the macro problem I have, on the literal level. I’d also wonder why Gemma and Tom weren’t put on their notice right away by an estate that looks even more like a Guy Billout picture than the town in The Truman Show. Much more. Those clouds! Also, where are the garages? It’s obviously a commuter development but there’s no place for anyone to park their cars except on the street. There aren’t even any driveways! Did this not strike them as odd right away?
*. Then there is the message, or allegorical meaning of what’s going on. This is pretty grim. The suburbs are hell. Work is pointless drudgery. And once you have a kid your life is forfeit, as you no longer have any purpose except to serve the little monster. Are we all so alienated today, from where we live, what we do, and each other? Well, this movie seems to be saying, Yes we are. And the virtual world next door is even worse.
*. Not very uplifting, or profound. And indeed I thought it all got a lot less interesting as it went along. Obviously we’ve been here before, in what I’ve dubbed the Simulacrum movies (The Truman Show, The Matrix, Dark City). I suppose the only thing different here is that we have become even more complicit in our own destruction. The cuckoo Yonders (it’s an analogy the opening credits introduces, crudely), are taking advantage of our nurturing nature, the sort of thing that helps us endure the stations of the cross of parenting. The moral of the story being that . . . we shouldn’t give in to these feelings? That it’s all just a conformist scam? I don’t know.
*. I mentioned in my notes on the Black Christmas remake (if that’s what it was) that Imogen Poots was growing on me. She grows some more here, as she carries the movie, distracting us from a super-creepy and annoying boy (he likes to scream) and an only slightly less annoying Jesse Eisenberg. I’ve also noted before how Eisenberg is not growing on me, and while he’s not bad here I still don’t care for him. And playing a landscaper?
*. Neat to look at, and given the premise it doesn’t matter that Yonder seems like a movie set or virtual environment. The artificiality of the design is something you’re supposed to appreciate. The characters, however, don’t seem any more three dimensional than the sets, and the point of it all struck me as glum and uninsightful.