Vivarium Review – Slow, Pretentious, Self-Indulgent

This is a review of the new film Vivarium, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots. This is a movie that’s trying desperately to be cerebral and artistic, but really only succeeds at being a plodding, boring movie. It begins by asking the audience the central question “What the fuck is this movie?” and then dangling the answer in front of us the entire movie without ever clearly answering it. There are certainly elements of this movie that I like. I tend to like slow-paced, cerebral, artistic movies ala Solaris or Christopher Nolan’s student film, Following. I recently gave a good review to Moon, starring Sam Rockwell. But this is an attempt at that, and not a very good one.

First of all, it’s clear what this movie is about. It’s a contemplation on being trapped by circumstance, particularly the biological imperative to produce the next generation so that it can produce the next generation, and so on and so forth. It’s also a commentary on the pointlessness of it, as well as the challenges of marriage and traditional family life. Finally, from a filmmaking perspective, it’s heavily influenced by the storytelling style of Charlie Kaufman and the cinematography of Michel Gondry. Let’s take those attempts one by one.

As far as the challenges of family life and the way it stresses and disrupts relationships, this attempt lives in the shadow of Marriage Story, Revolutionary Road and even the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man, all producing their take on similar subject matter with crisp, coherent storytelling and exceptional acting. Showing the downfall of a relationship requires that kind of acting and I don’t think the female lead was given enough material to work with (the script for this movie couldn’t have possibly been more than 10 pages long), and as much as I like Jesse Eisenberg, he’s not the right casting choice for that kind of serious relationship drama.

As far as the filmmaking style, it does produce some very interesting and aesthetically cool shots, but they’re few and far between and don’t convey the sort of message I think the filmmakers were probably hoping they conveyed. In Eternal Sunshine, Michel Gondry used similar pastel color palettes to great effect, but it made sense juxtaposing the surreal dream world with the real world. Here, the shots are used as a sort of visual imagery ala Koyaanisqatsi, but what it’s saying is banal and irrelevant. For instance, it shows a shot of the sun a bunch of times to sort of set a vibe and give a sense that there’s heat barreling down on them. Only, that has absolutely nothing to do with the movie. It doesn’t drive the movie forward in any way. It doesn’t add context or depth or meaningful symbolism. It just comes across as self-indulgent and pretentious.

Similarly, the only soundtrack to this movie is grating, generic thriller monotones. Like something you’d get from a stock music website if you searched “mysterious”. This music is so tedious it made watching this movie feel even more like a chore than the ages of dead screentime where nothing is happening. I suppose it’s meant to heighten the mystery and the feeling that “wow this movie is so weird,” but what it really does is accentuate how long this movie is. It doesn’t have the quality or the effect of similar soundtracks that execute what this movie is attempting much better, like There Will Be Blood.

As for the overall point of the movie, I thought it was an odd subject matter to pick. It’s a rebellion against something that’s not relevant or relatable or mainstream in any way, shape or form. The 1950s are long gone. No one in my generation is buying houses or having kids or in stable relationships or has any emotional attachment whatsoever to the subject matter of this film beyond history. I suppose it could have some relevance to young professionals, but those aren’t the types of people who watch movies like this. As a result, it feels just deeply out of touch. No one in my generation is attaining that life even if it’s their direct goal, let alone trapped by it. End of the Fucking World on Netflix was so much more relevant.

As far as the suburban monotony and the sort of body snatcher narrative, once again, this pales in comparison to what it’s derivative of. Stepford Wives, The ‘Burbs, the aforementioned A Serious Man, heck, even Suburbicon all do a better job at conveying this message with much more conventional storytelling choices.

This movie introduces a ton of questions throughout the film and provides answers to none of them. What was that yellow muck that Tom dug out of the hole? What was that kid, in the end? I mean clearly he was an alien, but what was their motivation, or literally anything concrete about them? Clearly this is the type of movie that would pride itself in making you take a crack and answering those supposedly interesting questions yourself, but those aren’t the types of questions you really want to mull over. I say that as someone who loved Prometheus and Alien Covenant, films everyone else on Earth hated, despite their horribly stupid characters, precisely because they gave you a bunch of existential questions to think about.

So the problem here is not that I don’t enjoy this type of movie. This is exactly the type of movie I like. But this movie was just an absolute slog to get through. I wanted to shut Vivarium off multiple times as I went through it, but I soldiered on so I could give it a fair and honest review. For you.

This movie is trying to be 2001, one of my all-time favorite movies, but it just doesn’t have the chops for it, and the subject matter isn’t interesting or relevant enough.

That said, I think it’s a promising film, in that I’d be interested to see their next film when their style is theoretically tighter and more refined.

I don’t want to be entirely negative in my Vivarium review, though. There are things I liked about the movie. I liked that it’s a super weird movie. I liked the main actress. I thought some of the visual imagery was creative, especially when the alien kid lifted up the sidewalk. I think they made good use of the color palette to produce an interesting and unique visual style. It had some funny scenes, like when the two main characters wake up and give the kid the finger. It reminds me a lot of student films like Following, Blood Simple and Bottle Rocket, where the directors later went on to great success. But, Blood Simple and Bottle Rocket are great examples because although those movies were integral to their creators’ evolutions as filmmakers, they were not good movies and they were equally hard to sit through as this movie was.

Altogether, I can’t in good conscience recommend Vivarium in this review. I feel like I’d be inflicting it upon you. I was looking forward to this movie, by the way. The trailers were intriguing. But it would have been better suited to be a 15 minute short film on YouTube than a full length feature movie, especially given how 90% of this movie is unnecessarily slow padding.

Anyway, that’s my review of Vivarium. Feel free to check it out if you dare. Be sure to check out the Movies and TV Section for more reviews, and follow me on Twitter to stay up to date with the site.


  • Ryan Night

    Ryan Night is an ex-game industry producer with over a decade of experience writing guides for RPGs. Previously an early contributor at, Ryan has been serving the RPG community with video game guides since 2001. As the owner of Bright Rock Media, Ryan has written over 600 guides for RPGs of all kinds, from Final Fantasy Tactics to Tales of Arise.

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