Review – What Will The Neighbors Think? (“Vivarium”)

After seeing this movie, you’ll never look at tract homes the same again! In the same vein of a Black Mirror, Twilight Zone, or Outer Limits episode, this sorta sci-fi thriller is as weird and surreal as a Darren Aronofsky movie (Mother!?), but this one actually has a more tangible script and ending.


*
Say hello to Tom and Gemma (Jesse Eisenberg & Imogen Poots), a nice young couple somewhere in England who, on a lark, walk into a real estate agency that’s boasting a brand new development called Yonder, a sprawling cookie-cutter suburbia where all the puke-green houses are identical… and I mean, identical! Like they were all copy/pasted by a computer and dropped onto a perfect Windows 7 landscape with idyllic clouds. After Tom & Gemma are shown perfect house #9 by peculiar agent Martin (Jonathan Aris) oddly, he just ups and vanishes! But as the couple tries to leave, they discover much to their horror, they can’t! The vast neighborhood is not only empty, but a diabolical maze that always leads them straight back home to #9. Try as they may, escape is futile.

Boxed plain-wrapped food mysteriously appears as is does their garbage disappears on the street, along with an infant one day! “Raise the child and be released”, says the message on the box, but this baby isn’t what it appears to be. This very strange little boy (Senen Jennings) grows at an alarming rate (98 days = an 8-year-old!), speaks in an odd adult-ish voice, mimics what he hears, and shrieks when he wants something. And as Tom & Gemma are trying to cope with this ‘thing’ in their home, Tom gets obsessed by digging a hole in the front yard that leads to ??.

The boy grows quickly up to an unfeeling, emotionless adult (Eanna Hardwicke) who is somehow all part of some grand plan, but what? That’s for YOU to decide as the ending, as shocking as it is jaw-dropping, has as many questions as it does answers. One thing is for sure, this is one movie that makes you think, and the Irish writing/directing team of Garret Shanley & Lorcan Finnegan (Without Name) certainly had fun with this story. You never know what’s going to happen, and then when it does, you scratch your head and think, “Okay, what just happened?”. I had to go to YouTube (“The Ending of Vivarium Explained”) to find the answers!

Irish director Lorcan Finnegan, along with writer Shanley, have conjured a real sinister story that, although it’s being billed as a comedy, it’s NOT! Far from that, it’s unnerving, compelling, totally far-fetched, and very creepy. If you ever seen Twilight Zone‘s “Stop Over In Small Town”, then ratchet that up by 10. Eisenberg and Poots give stand-out performances as the couple slowly driven mad with severe bouts of rage, compliance, acceptance, fear, denial, and how they individually feel/accept that very strange child in their midst. Even young Aris as the questionable kid is sufficiently creepy.

Originally, this was supposed to be a theatrical release, but it’s now being shown on VOD. Amazon Prime has it right now, since all theaters are verboten at present.

Stop Over In A Quiet Town
(Twilight Zone–Season 5, Ep. 30)


*
Earl Hamner, Jr. wrote eight TZ episodes and, while not as proficient as Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, or Charles Beaumont, did come up with some tasty treats like The Bewitchin’ Pool, Black Leather Jackets, The Hunt, and A Piano in the House. This simple tale, about a lost couple in a deserted town, did the trick.

A married couple, Bob & Millie Frazier (Barry Nelson & Nancy Malone), wake up in an unfamiliar house. Wow, that must’ve been a helluva party! All that Millie can remember is that Bob drank too much at a party the night before and, that while driving him home, a large shadow appeared over their car. While searching the house they’re in, they discover that the house is mostly props! Okay, that’s weird. The telephone has no connection, the cabinetry is merely glued-on facing, and the refrigerator is filled with plastic food.

They go outside to look for other people and can’t find anyone, except for the voice of a little girl’s laugh. Millie sees a cute squirrel in a tree, but is horrified to find that the animal is stuffed!! What is going on? They hear a church bell and conclude that it’s Sunday and that everyone’s in church, but when they investigate the chapel, it’s empty. More looking around yields more disquieting finds: the grass is plastic and the trees are fake! They hear a train whistle and, eager to leave the town, rush to the train station and board the empty train.

As the train leaves the station (revealed to be “Centerville”), they begin a lighthearted conversation, relieved to be finally going home. However, when the train soon comes to a stop again in Centerville, they realize it has only gone in a complete circle, and they are right back where they started. Uh-oh! They leave the train and begin walking out of town, once again hearing that little girl’s laughter from somewhere. A shadow falls over them, and they run, only to be scooped up by the hand of a gigantic child (Denise Lynn). A mother’s voice says, “Be careful with your pets, dear, your father brought them all the way from Earth!” The child shrugs, then drops the couple back into the town, which is now revealed to be just a model village with a miniature railway running around it. Egads!

What’s eerie is, as far back as 1964, Rod Serling in his closing narration said, “The moral of what you’ve just seen is clear. If you drink, don’t drive. And if your wife has had a couple, she shouldn’t drive either. You might both just wake up with a whale of a headache in a deserted village in the Twilight Zone”. Yeah, a ‘don’t -drink-and-drive’ warning from 1964! Aside from the obvious sci-fi overtones, the couple might have both DIED and this would be their eternal reward for driving drunk, such was the morality tales that Serling loved to profess on his TV show. Certainly not the the best episode, but still better than any of the new ones that CBS All Access has attempted to come out with! Yeah, I’m talkin’ to YOU, Jordan Peele!!

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