Review – Vivarium (2019): Fantasia International Film Festival!

by Vincent Leblanc

My second film of the evening on Day 2 was the North American Premiere of the science-fiction thriller Vivarium. It is a co-production between Ireland, Belgium, and Denmark. The film had its World Premiere at Cannes during the Critic’s Week back in May. The film is also setup to be the closing film of the Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival in Switzerland on July 13th. 

The film was written by Garret Shanley, based on a story by Garret Shanley and Lorcan Finnegan, and was directed by Lorcan Finnegan. It stars Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg.

A host from the festival was proud to tell us that the film was a product of the festival’s own Frontières International Co-Production Market, which “connects North America and Europe with a specific focus on genre film”. Held every summer since 2012 during one weekend of the festival, the market helps writers and directors meet producers and distributors in hopes of making a movie come to life. For example, the excellent science-fiction/adventure/horror/comedy film Turbo Kid was a product of the very first edition of Frontières. The market also has partnerships with the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival in Belgium and the Marché du Film in Cannes. I found out that Vivarium was a project that was presented in Brussels in 2015.

The host welcomed director Finnegan to the stage. Finnegan said that it was his first time in Montreal and thanked us for being there. He said he didn’t want to say too much about the film, but mentioned the words odd and nightmare during his short speech. He hoped we would enjoy the film. Finnegan said that his actors couldn’t be there because Imogen Poots (he pronounced Imogen with a soft g, something I wasn’t sure of) was filming a movie in New Zealand and Jesse Eisenberg was in New York doing promo for his other film The Art of Self-Defense (which played here the previous day). But he said Eisenberg left a short video message for us.

Eisenberg appeared on the screen. He said Montreal was one of his favorite cities. He commented on how diverse and beautiful it was. He went on to say that, unfortunately, the characters in the movie we were about to watch would experience something very different. He also hoped we would enjoy the film.

If, like me, you hadn’t heard about Vivarium before today, here’s a short synopsis taken from the Cannes website. I thought the one on the Fantasia website gave a little bit too much away about the little surprising things that happen early on in the film:

“In search of a starter home, a young couple follow a mysterious estate agent and get trapped in a strange housing development.”

As mentioned by the director prior to the screening, this movie is definitely an oddity. It’s the kind of movie that’s intriguing and doesn’t explain everything. I for one have no idea what I’m supposed to understand about this film. Still, I boarded the bizarre train and, from what I saw, I liked the film enough. It had some interesting but strange moments and situations. The film plays mostly in a serious manner but there is room for some really funny bits. I figured out one element of the ending before time which in the end made me say “all this for that?”. Maybe it’s just me being too dumb to understand what the movie wanted to say.   

This is mostly Poots’ show. She’s great at going through various emotions during their couple’s ordeal. Eisenberg is equal to himself and I could feel his frustration at a specific point. The art direction and visual effects are well done and really make you feel awkward. On the opposite, kudos to the filmmakers for the use of lively, classic ska songs to counterbalance the strange happenings of the film. 

Following the screening at Cannes, Saban Films acquired the US rights to the film. The print for the screening was provided by Métropole Films Distribution, a Canadian distributor. I guess we can expected to hear about some kind of distribution down the road.   

I’m giving Vivarium a 3 out of 5 Hairpieces!

Here’s a short clip of a scene early in the film: 

#Fantasia2019 #FantasiaFest #Vivarium

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