Thoughts on “Vivarium”

This is another “Crave” horror movie, and again not a Blumhouse one.  Perhaps thankfully, I’m coming towards the end of what’s available there and will be able to move on to DVDs again, including a set of the original Dracula movies (from the 1930s on) which might give me a point of comparison to more modern horror movies.  Anyway, that’s in the future, and the current present is this movie.

When I originally saw the description, I thought it would be something like “Stepford Wives”, as it talked about the two protagonists trying to buy a house in a neighbourhood where everything was remarkably the same.  As it turns out, the end up being the only two people in that neighbourhood, and the neighbourhood turns out to be incredibly artificial, from the food and the smells to the clouds themselves.  They get lured there by a development agent named Martin, who then leaves them behind.  After they try to leave — and run their car out of gas trying to do so — they are eventually presented with a baby and told that if they raise it they will be released.  The rest of the movie is based around them raising this rapidly aging boy and their attempts to escape from their captivity.

This is actually a really interesting premise, and it raises a really interesting mystery.  Martin was decidedly odd in his mannerisms, and the child definitely resembles Martin.  The child also seems to learn mostly by mimicry, and Martin had a scene where he mimics the woman as well.  So who is behind this?  What do they want?  Why do they want to choose this method to raise their children?  Why did they choose these two to bring here, and seemingly brought only these two?  Why is everything artificial?  And so on and so forth.  These are all questions that it would be really interesting to explore.

Except the movie doesn’t bother to explore them.  In fact, the movie doesn’t bother to do anything.  Instead, it commits the common modern horror movie mistake of inserting elements but not making them actually mean anything because they aren’t developed.  While Gemma — the woman — insists at one point that the child is a mystery and she’s going to solve it, beyond a few small attempts that she ends when she discovers that he’s inhuman — which we already knew — she drops that line entirely.  And the movie never solves that for us either.  At the end, the now grown up boy “releases her” by killing her, saying that she was his mother and after the child is grown the mother dies, which was not set-up at all and so is meaningless.  She replies with am emphatic reply of her constant refrain that she isn’t his mother, but again this has no real emotional connection because there is nothing in the boy or in anywhere else that it relates to. 

At the same time, for most of the movie Gemma and her boyfriend Tom don’t really interact, and yet at the end when he is dying at the end — he dies before she does, and dies from being sick — she embraces him from behind and they reminisce about how they met in a clearly emotional scene … that isn’t all that emotional because we were never shown the two of them actually being in love or doing things as lovers, nor did they separate over their obsessions and then only reconcile at the end.  It’s supposed to be an emotional scene, but we have no emotional connection to them or their relationship and so the scene is hollow.  And in fact his death is another wasted opportunity since he starts trying to dig a huge hole and then gets sicker and sicker, and so it seems to imply that the mud or whatever is causing his sickness.  But the end implies that it might just be lung cancer, and certainly never explains if anything in the world killed him and so we just don’t know.  So the movie sets up things that are potentially interesting and then never does anything with them.

The pacing, however, is actually pretty good, so it took me about an hour to realize that the movie wasn’t actually doing anything.  And unfortunately this makes the ending predictable, because we knew that it was going to be the boy going back after he was grown and taking over from or doing a job like Martin did in the beginning.  And that’s what happens, with Martin being old and ultimately dying of old age before the new “Martin” takes over and tries to repeat history with a new couple.  But, again, the movie doesn’t bother to tell us what’s going on, and so it again all falls flat.

And because the movie ultimately isn’t doing anything, it ultimately isn’t all that scary either.  We don’t even really get threats or punishments for the cases where they break away from raising the child.  They are stuck there, sure, and that in itself is a bit scary, but the movie never really builds horror or tension or drama or anything.  It really does nothing.  And since it doesn’t reveal anything, even at the end we don’t know if they are evil, misunderstood, misunderstanding, or anything else, and so don’t know if we are supposed to see the new “Martin” as horrifying or not.

And the sad thing is that there’d be a trivial way to make this better.  The movie implies that they learn a lot by mimicry, and so if you make them alien creatures — as is implied by the strange writing in a book she gets that, again, nothing is done with — that are trying to learn how to be human, then we can see what the purpose of doing this is.  And there is a scene where the two of them find that their car battery is still working and take some time to dance, and the boy joins in.  This, then, could be a critical moment that leads to the boy being different and more developed than the original Martin, and more human.  From there, you can either make that sinister as an attempt to subvert and conquer the Earth, or more sympathetic with this being the only way they know to find out how to fit in on this world that they now want to be a part of.  This would take little time to establish and resolve, would fit in with the rest of the movie, would make what happens have a point, and would allow the protagonists to actually have a notable impact on how things turn out, for good or ill.

As it is, the movie really doesn’t do anything except take an interesting premise and mystery and fill an hour and a half doing nothing with it.  I won’t watch this movie again.


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