VIVARIUM – movie review

VIVARIUM
Saban Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Screenwriter: Garret Shanley
Cast: Imogen Poots, Jesse Eisenberg, Senan Jennings, Eanna Harwike, Jonathan Aris
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/3/20
Opens: March 27, 2020

One of the most explosive and controversial books in recent times, David Benatar’s “The Human Predicament,” takes the view that giving birth is bad. Benatar is an anti-natalist not so much because of the usual reasons—too many people in the world leads to disastrous climate change and food shortages—but because, he believes, you are inflicting pain on your children. The happiness our children feel will is subordinate to their pain. Citing Benatar’s example, would you be willing to accept an hour of pain in return for getting an hour of pleasure? Hardly anyone would say yes. Which brings us to “Vivarium,” the word meaning a structure for keeping animals under semi-natural conditions for observation and experimentation.

Director Lorcan Finnegan, whose “Without Name” follows a land surveyor’s measuring an ancient forest, who loses his reason under supernatural conditions, is in his métier with “Vivarium,” a intriguing puzzle of a movie that will evoke several interpretations. The easy one is that the film is a satire on suburban living, which it is, not unlike “Suburbican,,” “The Burbs,” “Pleasantville,” “The Stepford Wives” and “Get Out.” However, think of the movie on deeper terms and you may agree that Garret Shanley’s screenplay is in its way a promulgation of Benatar’s book as the images on the screen for most of its 98 minutes show a young couple whose initial happiness gives way to months of continuing pain.

How so? Watch the progress, or regress, of a young couple on the cusp of life; Gemma (Imogen Poots) and her boyfriend Tom (Jesse Eisenberg). They’re looking for a dream house, white picket fence and spacious rooms, of course, because that’s what America is about. Gemma, an elementary school teacher, is good with her class, putting them through an exercise that has them identify with winged creatures. Just after dismissal she runs into one of her pupils who discovers two dead birds who have fallen out of their nest shortly after birth, a time that finds the young birds with open mouths tasting their first pangs of hunger. Perhaps they have just bird brains or maybe they can tell already that life is a vallis lacrimarum.

When Gemma and Tom consult Martin (Jonathan Aris), a real estate agent whose oddball behavior should have them running for the hills, they are escorted by him to a development called “Yonder,” where they behold a labyrinth of ticky-tacky houses, all painted puke-green. (Great set design by Julia Devin-power.) Impressed by the spaciousness inside number 9, they are surprised to note that the agent has disappeared. Set to go home, they wind up driving in a circular fashion, always landing back on number 9. Life is a circle, isn’t it? They take in a baby deposited in a box outside, a brat who grows daily, who imitates the actions of his, or its, foster parents, screams like the devil, and speaks in a voice not like Linda Blair’s Regan in “The Exorcist,” but like a grown man. Tom is ready to kill. Gemma has not reached that stage but hates the kid’s calling her “mother.” “I’m not your f******mother!”

Already the suburban dream has been smashed. The desire to have a child? Gone. The boxed-in togetherness of the trio drives both off the wall, the child being the only one who, despite screams, is looking to learn. Benatar’s prescription is swallowed with a vengeance, as relative moments of happiness are dissolved into hellish suffering. Like many other psychological thrillers, “Vivarium” begins with a light touch, moments of humor, dissipating in the second half, just as weird as the opening but loaded with misery.

This is a low-key sci-fi adventure with almost bloodless smidgens of horror which, with the crackerjack acting especially of Imogene Poots with Jesse Eisenberg in almost a supporting role is entertaining and enlightening. A fine performance from child actor Senan Jennins, who looks and acts something like CBS’s Young Sheldon, delivering the goods. Think before you marry or before you trust that a long-term relationship is heaven on earth. Think before you have children. Think before you believe suburban life is a cure-all or protective cocoon for life’s misfortunes. The universe is indifferent to you and so is your real estate agent.

98 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+

CHANGE IN THE AIR – movie review

CHANGE IN THE AIR

Screen Media Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Dianne Dreyer
Screenwriter:  Audra Gorman
Cast:  Mary Beth Hurt, Aidan Quinn, Peter Gerety, M. Emmet Walsh, Rachel Brosnahan, Macy Gray, Olympia Dukakis
Screened at: Dolby24, NYC, 10/4/18
Opens: October 19, 2018

There’s a ghost in Dianne Dreyer’s movie, but “Change in the Air” has nothing to do with Halloween.  Nobody gets stabbed, hacked, beheaded, shot, guillotined, or drawn and quartered. True, one old guy gets run down by a car, but no problem.  He comes back to life, only to painlessly die of a heart stoppage.  The only horror in the pic is the suburban community, a quiet place where doors are unlocked, neighbors barge in, mail is delivered on time, the cops are unlikely to ticket the neighbors they know.  In fact it is so quiet and peaceful that I’m reminded of the best in line (not an exact quote) in this year’s best drama so far, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (Melissa McCarthy in an Oscar-worthy performance), “He died, Or moved to the suburbs.  I can’t tell the difference.” Don’t see this movie one day after you see the McCarthy gem.  “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” will make much of what follows mediocre or, in the case of “Change in the Air,” pretty terrible.

As Wren, Rachel Brosnahan is ideally cast since the young actress is an ethereal presence with her light blue eyes and her light clothing and face so white you might holler at the screen “Just put on a sheet as long as you insist on playing a ghost.”  We may wonder why she’s hiding from the police, who knock on her door only to find her hiding in the house (even though she presumably could disappear or turn into a bird).  Her next-door neighbor Jo Ann Bayberry (Mary Beth Hurt) tells her ornithologist husband Arnie Bayberry (Peter Gerety) that she’s lovely—three or four times.  Since Wren receives a full bag of mail daily, Jo Ann wonders whether she’s a speed-reader. She can’t resist allying with Josh (Satya Bhabha), the local postman, convincing him to join her in stealing a couple of letters and reading them.  The only person who is not nosy, Walter Lemke (M. Emmet Walsh), spends the movie time sitting and manspreading in a chair on the lawn.  No dialogue from him, which is fine.

It’s no secret that Alison (Rachel Zeiger-Haag), Jo Ann’s daughter, had passed away since, of course Wren knows all.  The only real conflict finds Moody (Aidan Quinn), the cop, arguing with the pharmacist who does not want to fill his script because it’s 6.01p and the pharmacy division closes at 6.

How does Wren shake up the town and wake up people who would come to life in an apartment in a thriving metropolis?  If it’s by a quick scene of magic realism in the end, I guess that would qualify.  If it’s another action, I must have missed it by dozing for the wrong half-minute.  If you read this carefully, you’ll know the antidote, one that will shake you up and maybe have the same effect on the suburban town.  Go see “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”  It will restore your faith in the movies.

94 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – D
Acting – B-
Technical – B-
Overall – C-