Vivarium, 2019 – ★★★½ – podcast film review

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Vivarium
film walkthrough and summary

A young couple with such promise! That’s what Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots represent. The search for a house is not clearly stated, in fact it looks like they are just killing time on a Sunday, going out and looking at them. Gemma and Tom don’t know the terror that awaits them when they drive out to the identical suburban homes with the salesperson “Martin” (exceptionally creepy dude that resembles an actor on a Progressive Insurance commercial). In fact, he seems like a robot. At this point, they are shown house #9 and left alone inside the blank home. Gemma and Tom try to drive home but every street looks exactly the same and leads them back to the mystic model #9.

The Director is Lorcan Finnegan (Without Name). Since this is his second film, I don’t have a “type” to compare it to. I do recall “Without Name” being slow and odd and maybe allegorical? That would be very similar to what’s going on in “Vivarium.” I took the title to suggest “A look at life.” Co-writer is Garret Shanley who also co-wrote “Without Name.” The Stars are: Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots, Danielle Ryan, and Molly McCann. I was so impressed with Imogen Poots in this. Her acting talent and onscreen presence belies her youth. (She plays a young Valerie in “V for Vendetta.”)

After feeling crushed and claustrophobic, Tom decides to set #9 on fire. Gemma is shocked he has done this but goes along with it since it seems there is literally no way out. The houses stretch out into infinity. The look of the houses resembles what I used to see in 90’s flight simulator games you could download for free. The graphics are simple. During the fire, they decide to follow the very artificial looking sun. It eventually leads them right back to #9 and they become almost surrendered to the house. They find a box with food and necessities in front of the house. They fall asleep in what looks like a death, but it’s not. They find a box with a newborn baby in it that says “Raise the child and be released.” Could this be a statement about Generation X or Y? Perhaps as we are forced into working to pay off a tract home we are fed the lie that if we have children, we will somehow escape the malaise. Could this be our middle class suburban existence being poked fun at? I’ll admit the film gives very few concrete clues and instead leaves much open to interpretation, which normally I like. Maybe it would have helped me if there were more clues as to what the writers meant. Incidentally, the director is also a co-writer of the story.

Months pass and the infant grows to the size of a seven year old boy. He imitates his parents’ voices which to me seemed like the “bait and switch” realization that raising the kid was just a way to pass on traits. The couple is still young but they start to seem like depressed older parents who cannot escape. They seem resigned to the fact that they may never escape. Tom tries to be violent with the “son” and refuses to call him a “boy.” The mother continually says to the boy when he calls her “Mom,” “I am not your mother!” in a very hateful way. Notwithstanding, she seems much kinder than Tow toward the child, even though the child appears to be killing both slowly. Tom finds out the astro turf grass has a strange clay material under it. He is driven to dig down into the yard and discover what is there. The digging each day becomes like a job for him. He gets up, eats breakfast and then starts his occupation of digging. It seems to give him purpose. Could this be the yard work etc we do in Suburbia? No one cares, why are we (esp as dad’s) so obsessed with the look of our lawn and garden?

Once the boy disappears and returns with a book. It has strange and threatening images of 2 adults and a child in witch-like spells. She demands he tell her who gave her the book. He says he’s not supposed to tell. After this the boy’s neck pulsates in a frightening, monstrous way showing possibly what the giver of the book looked like. Gemma now realizes the boy can’t imagine anything. He seems ever more like a robot or clone of sorts.

Toward the end, the boy grows into a man and Gemma tries to kill him. He disappears under the subterranean veneer of the neighborhood. He actually peels up the ground exposing other families suffering as they are. Gemma screams defiantly and dies. The boy buries her in the hole Tom has dug. This is all a frightening scene where Gemma is zipped up in a body bag while talking. The boy then becomes a real estate agent, replacing Martin who appears old and broken down. The boy greets a new couple walking into the office.

The end! Now, you can watch me on Youtube!!!

Come to Daddy, 2019 – ★★★

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IMDB gives this as the storyline: Norval’s life has been, to put it lightly, difficult. Currently living home with his mother, the troubled young man is coming off alcohol-related struggles. So when he receives an unexpected letter from his estranged father requesting a visit, Norval catches a bus up to his dad’s secluded and scenic waterfront home. Maybe reconnecting with his father will give Norval the emotional fulfillment he’s been lacking. Before long, though, he notices something off about his dad, an uneasy feeling triggered by inappropriate comments and a possible over-dependence on booze. Norval quickly realizes that his hope of father/son bonding is doomed. Instead of a family reunion, he finds himself in a waking nightmare.
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Elijah Wood alone is a major reason to watch this film. He wins for worst haircut and neck tattoo in an ensemble but we all like watching him, so if you haven’t seen it yet, give it a watch. If you have seen it, you may agree or disagree with my take. Please leave a comment explaining what you liked or disliked about my review. I have multiple places you can reach me: rileyonfilm.com, Riley on Film my Facebook Page, or Riley on Film on Twitter. To divide up my many thoughts on this film, I offer this: This film works as a horror because of its 1) director, 2) star quality, and 3) well-placed hardcore violence that is borderline comical (because it’s so graphic).

First, the director Ant Timpson. As a horror fan you will recognize the movies he’s made: “Turbo Kid” and “Housebound” to name just 2. I think the big actors in this probably took the role because of this avant garde director. He knocked the ball out of the park with this one. There is usually a comedic element to his films but they are intense and often scary (I don’t know how scary I would rate Turbo Kid but it’s graphic). So now that you know the director is established and talented, let’s look at the stars in this film.

Who can think of Elijah Wood as any character other than Frodo Baggins? I sure can’t. He plunges earthward though in this film, showing he has the chops to do much more. I hope we see him in more horror. In 2012 he starred in “Maniac” which holds its own with fans as a solid slasher horror. Let’s hope he keeps on the horror tip. But he’s not the only star quality in this film.

Stephen McHattie is becoming known for a lot of Typecast roles. This is for good reason because I plays the scary old emaciated man role well! He is the DJ in the indie horror modern classic “Pontypool.” He’s great in that and delivers a class act performance as what I will call “the original dad” in “Come to Daddy (Gordon). His gravelly voice and visage make the scenes come alive with suspense and horror. All that is prior to “the fork scene” where a Thai actor is emasculated with the rustic utensil. This is one of the most violent kill scenes I’ve encountered in recent years. I suppose a worse one is done with a straight razor down Brian Cranston’s character’s arm in “Drive.” But I digress. But that brings me to the third viable element in this film: the well-placed violence.

In addition to the soon-to-be-famous fork killing, there is a partial decapitation that should have audiences squirming. IMDB labels this a comedy as well as a horror but I think that would only apply to the black comedy label. These are brutal kills. They’d fit in the context of the story though.

In conclusion, I hope you see and agree with me these three attributes make the film a must see for horror fans. I gave it a 6/10. Where it lost points were in the long spaces between kills and other milestones of the plot which were lagging a bit. It could have had more exposition of the characters of it could have just been shorter. I would still make it required watching for my class on Horror (If I ever teach one).

Rabid, 2019 – ★★ Text

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I was really let down. The Soska Sisters are proving they are more about their “gory” reputation than actually making horror movies. At first, it had potential with me. The idea of a young beautiful woman disfigured in a car wreck and her coming back to normal through a vampire method was indeed intriguing. There is a little gore when they show her face but after that it becomes drama, and I mean drama. The Soska Sisters showed up twice in the time I was watching and before the time at which I said no thank you and turned it off.

Saddling the Cronenberg horse didn’t work for them this time. I still hope to see more from them. My advice is, less cameos, more time at the storyboard table creating an epic horror film. There isn’t even any gore really in this. I am sorry to say, I give this one a 2/10, the original is miles higher and better.

I Trapped the Devil, 2019 – ★★★½

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I’m starting my second sitting with this film. It was a truly “slow burn” for about 40mins but it’s just started getting very cool. You feel like you are i the house with this crazy man and his “3” captives.

Would you believe a family member who claimed to have the devil trapped in his basement. The more the characters develop the more it seems the main character is indeed a psychopath. What can they do? He has a gun and definitely believes in what he is doing.

The music turns the screw here, it is absolutely fabulous. I’ve never sensed such preparation and creativity in an indie horror film score. There are no jump scares (yet) and I have a feeling there won’t be. This one is meant to squeeze its viewer dry.

I have a feeling the ending will be awesome, maybe like KPax where the viewer has to decide if the supernatural is real. This has the creepiness I look for in movies, I highly recommend it. I rated it a 7/10.

At time of publish, this film is streaming on Hulu.

The Outsider, 2020 – ★★★

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An interesting series. It leaves a lot of open questions in the first few episodes. I feel genuinely heartbroken for Jason Bateman’s character. We shall see how his plight unfolds. What a horrifying prospect when a whole town tars and feathers you for something you couldn’t have done. But I’ve stopped watching at episode 3. I do recommend it for suspense fans but not much horror to see here. Then again, they haven’t revealed who the outsider is and when they do I have a feeling some more horror will deal into the hand. For where I am with it, I give it a 6/10.

Streaming at time of publish on HBOgo and HBO