REVIEW: ‘Vivarium’ director Lorcan Finnegan overworks a promising premise

Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg in 'Vivarium' (Image supplied)
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Updated 18 April 2020

REVIEW: ‘Vivarium’ director Lorcan Finnegan overworks a promising premise

  • 'Vivarium' is a thriller starring Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots and directed by Lorcan Finnegan

LONDON: Young couple Tom and Gemma (Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots) are desperate to buy their first home together, so when estate agent Martin offers to show them round a new suburban community called Yonder, they forgo their skepticism and drive out to take a look. Given that a vivarium is an enclosure created to observe or study plants and animals, it’s no surprise to viewers that while getting to the development is relatively straightforward, getting out again proves a little more problematic. As Tom and Gemma begin to realize the extent of their otherworldly prison, they receive a package — a baby that they must raise in exchange for their release.

The ersatz family settle into a friction-filled routine. Gemma juggles empathy and frustrated rage, Tom struggles to repress violence towards the child and becomes obsessed with escape, while the preternaturally ageing kid creeps his pseudo parents out by imitating them and screaming in equal measure.

The central conceit of “Vivarium” suffers from unfortunate parallels to a lot of real-world situations right now. Far from making the film feel apt and current, however, the allegories — being trapped inside mind-numbingly repetitive domesticity — only highlight the bloated feel of the story. “The Twilight Zone” is a clear influence on this movie, but the best episodes of that seminal show tended to top out at 30 minutes. There’s no such luck here. The film is overly long and stuffed with too many heavy-handed examples of exposition or plot prodding, which force the narrative where director Lorcan Finnegan wants it to go. By the time the movie lurches into final-third revelations that feel lackluster and unfulfilling, Finnegan is about the only person who cares where it’s going.

While Poots turns in a nuanced performance, punctuating a traceable arc with wonderfully visceral outbursts, Eisenberg, unfortunately, comes across as one-dimensional and unlikeable, with many of his character’s traits used merely as a foil for the couple’s creepy child. Jonathan Aris’ odd estate agent is actually a lot of fun, but appears only during the plot building of the first act. The neighborhood is frighteningly beautiful, but we don’t see anything like enough of it for it to resonate as a character in its own right. There are the ingredients for a great thriller here, but it’s one that would have benefitted from a far shorter stay.

What We Are Reading Today: Privilege and Punishment by Matthew Clair

Updated 27 November 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Privilege and Punishment by Matthew Clair

The number of Americans arrested, brought to court, and incarcerated has skyrocketed in recent decades. Criminal defendants come from all races and economic walks of life, but they experience punishment in vastly different ways. Privilege and Punishment examines how racial and class inequalities are embedded in the attorney-client relationship, providing a devastating portrait of inequality and injustice within and beyond the criminal courts.

Matthew Clair conducted extensive fieldwork in the Boston court system, attending criminal hearings and interviewing defendants, lawyers, judges, police officers, and probation officers. In this eye-opening book, he uncovers how privilege and inequality play out in criminal court interactions.

When disadvantaged defendants try to learn their legal rights and advocate for themselves, lawyers and judges often silence, coerce, and punish them. Privileged defendants, who are more likely to trust their defense attorneys, delegate authority to their lawyers, defer to judges, and are rewarded for their compliance.

Clair shows how attempts to exercise legal rights often backfire on the poor and on working-class people of color, and how effective legal representation alone is no guarantee of justice.

Superbly written and powerfully argued, Privilege and Punishment draws needed attention to the injustices that are perpetuated by the attorney-client relationship in today’s criminal courts, and describes the reforms needed to correct them.