‘Vivarium’ Review: This Is Not Your Beautiful House

‘Vivarium’ Review: This Is Not Your Beautiful House

Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots play Tom and Gemma, a young couple looking for a home. Gemma’s a schoolteacher and Tom a landscaper, so they’re not getting too fancy. They look into a suburban housing development called Yonder.

The agent for the place is a guy named Martin, who wears a white short-sleeve shirt and black tie and has a pale complexion and slicked-back hair. Put him in formal wear and he could pass for one of the Overlook guests near the end of “The Shining.” When Gemma asks where Yonder is, he replies, “Near enough. And far enough. Just the right distance.”

“Watch out, you two — you’re about to enter an allegory!!!” one may shout at the screen at this point. And Tom, sensing something is amiss, lies to Martin that while they’d love to follow him out to the place, the couple has no car. Gemma corrects him. And so they enter a large tract of land with identical houses, all painted wilting-shamrock green. The interiors of each house are similarly bland, conformist. It gives Tom and Gemma the creeps, understandably, and they try to drive out. They soon find they’re trapped in a maze. One that looks, from the rooftop of one of the identical houses, endless. And as Tom soon discovers, burning one of said houses down (in the hopes of, among other things, signaling the outside world for help) doesn’t get them anywhere.

Poots and Eisenberg, who first appeared together a decade ago in Brian Koppelman’s “Solitary Man,” remain an appealing onscreen couple. Which is good, because for long stretches they are the only people in the movie. Just when you’re wondering when another being might intrude on their anxiety, one does: a baby. One who grows into possibly the most relentlessly creepy child to ever blight a marriage, or a cinema screen.

Directed by Lorcan Finnegan, from a script by Garret Shanley, “Vivarium” depicts Gemma and Tom becoming increasingly unglued, tormented by a tidy little boy who can speak in each of their voices. He has other irritating traits, too.

The movie expands upon its echoes of the classic TV series “The Prisoner” with admirable purposefulness. And its commitment to the inexorable horrors of its story line is actually surprising. (The sci-fi angle of the story is suggested by its title.) There’s a consistent inventiveness — and grim humor — to this treatment of a seemingly well-worn theme.


Rated R for themes, language, a brief nightmare sexual depiction. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. Rent or buy on iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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