WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Vivarium.
Vivarium hides its hand for most of the film, insinuating Jesse Eisenberg’s Tom and Imogen Poots’ Gemma are stuck in a supernatural housing development called Yonder. After being left there by Martin (Jonathan Aris), a shady real estate agent, they can’t escape the maze and alwas find themselves back at “#9.” They try burning the house down and painting signs for planes to spot but it all comes to nothing.
In the final act, though, it’s revealed, despite Gemma’s initial assumptions, this isn’t some supernatural state of limbo. They’re actually in an extraterrestrial web hidden on Earth. However, when the finale rolls around, Vivarium‘s aliens turn out to be the worst ever in movie history.
The couple find a kid they name Boy and raise him for nine months, not knowing he’s part of the alien conspiracy. It’s only after Tom dies of poisoning and Gemma tries to kill Boy, now an adult, that she falls into a space-time pocket that unravels what the labyrinth is about. The real estate agents bring couples there, trap them and force them to become parents to alien kids disguised as human boys. Once they grow up, the parents either commit suicide or are killed by the Boys, and then, the aliens head out of Yonder and assimilate into the real world.
But while movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers painted a terrifying feeling of Earth being at risk, we don’t get that at all here. In fact, the aliens don’t even feel sinister in the least. This obviously isn’t an over-the-top action flick like Independence Day, but the way the aliens are portrayed here is laughable, especially as all Boy does is talk in a voice mimicking Tom. Signs did it subtly without making an action spectacle and Vivarium could have followed this cerebral style where the aliens lurked in the shadows. Instead, Boy looks and sounds bland, and the few instances in which aliens appear are underwhelming.
The first comes when Gemma asks the kid where he’s been sneaking off to and who he’s been speaking to. He imitates the person with a weird voice and his neck puffs out like a frog, but at that point it’s unclear if he’s a figment of their imagination or a demon. It’s gross to look at, but it’s not as intimidating as Vivarium intended. Then, when Gemma sees various families and the alien kids in the pocket, they just have warped faces. The only time it seems to be scary is when Boy actually gets on all fours and crawls around like a rapid insect, but that’s something that’s appeared in plenty of other movie. Plus watching Gemma chase him in the sewers like a cockroach is more comedic than anything else.
By the time we see an adult Boy watching Gemma, who’s been poisoned just like Tom, follow her husband to the grave, the story missed a true threat. Boy doesn’t kill her, he just bags her up and tosses her in a hole with Tom, gets in their car and replaces Martin at the agency to entrap another unsuspecting couple. And that’s it. Their overlords don’t appear, nor do the other agencies or Boys. Ultimately, this comes off like an isolated event rather than a full-blown invasion. It’s a shame because Tom and Gemma are potentially interesting, and had the film given a reason for the invasion — or at least just more information — it would certainly have had more impact than the borefest that ensued in this parody of a suburban dream.
Starring Imogen Poots, Jesse Eisenberg, Senan Jennings, Jonathan Aris and Eanna Hardwicke, Vivarium is now available through major VOD services.
KEEP READING: HBO Releases 500 Hours of TV and Movies for Free
Vivarium deals with an extraterrestrial invasion, but unfortunately the aliens involved look and sound bland.