The true horror of Vivarium is unrelenting and unforgiving, and too real for those of us trapped in societal delusions.
Young unmarried couple Tom and Gemma wanders into a realtor’s shop and agrees to a house tour of the Yonder estate. They are unimpressed by what they are shown, and somewhat unnerved, following which the realtor abruptly disappears, leaving the couple trapped in Yonder. Worse, a baby boy next appears, with the instructions that the couple is to raise the child in order to be freed. What follows is an absolute suburban nightmare, the most horrific part of which being the child is obviously not human.
Vivarium is like long-acting opioid painkillers. In other words, it’s slow-burning. You are going to be dissatisfied on consumption too. But once the effects hit, they do their job. And they stay with you for hour, if not days.
The movie is a distressing watch, made all the more by accumulating revelation that there is not going to be any decent way out for the victims. On this, the parallels to real-life city folks trapped in suburban hell is unmistakable. How many of us dream of settling down in a beautiful home with a lover, only to discover the reality of that is a dreary, debilitating existence in a cookie-cutter house with no escape and no respite?
For those additionally burdened by an unexpected pregnancy, is the journey of raising such an unwanted kid also one that is ultimately fruitless, maybe even a deepening quagmire of hatred?
Vivarium is a sci-fi horror hybrid, but it is also unforgiving social commentary. I find it equally competent in both genres. And with a basket of brutal opinions.
Stylistically, the movie is reminiscent of 70s and 80s psychological horror classics; sorry, I can’t think of a better description. The Boy, immaculate uniform and nature and all, immediately reminded me of Damien Thorn. (Damien’s story, incidentally, a cuckoo scenario too) The facial close-ups, synth-inspired soundtrack, and unnerving eeriness throughout further spelt that era. To be clear, I’ve long been a huge fan of such an approach in horror cinema. I often find this approach the most effective too.
Last but not least, let me state that I disagree with reviews that described the Boy as incapable of humanly affect. “He” is obviously unable to completely be human, that I agree with. However, the story does drop many indications that his behaviour is modeled upon the reactions of those rearing him. Who knows how he’d have turned out, had his foster parents been kinder to him? Would the story end differently, had Tom or Gemma been more accepting of their enforced roles?