Vivarium

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Vivarium Movie Poster Image
Disturbing scenes, cool visuals in lackluster sci-fi fable.
  • R
  • 2020
  • 97 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Messages are dark and dystopian; it'd be a stretch to call them positive. But there are messages to be gleaned about the toll that conformity takes on people. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Gemma and Tom are caught in the grip of crushing events; it makes sense that they fall apart and attack each other and their "son," but it's hardly positive. That said, when movie opens, it's clear that Gemma is a teacher who loves kids and her job. 

Violence

Violence isn't bloody or gory but is disturbing, particularly since violent images are backed with creepy noises on soundtrack (e.g., grinding gears, mechanical squeaks). In movie's beginning, baby birds are pushed out of their nest; their dead bodies are shown on the ground. A man tries to hurt a young boy by pushing him to the ground, but he only seems mildly injured. The man tries to imprison the boy, saying to "let it starve." A character finds a withered body in a body bag in a scene during which it's tough to make out exactly what's happening; in other scenes, characters die and are themselves zipped slowly into body bags. A character has some inhuman body parts; viewers see his neck expanding while he hisses like a snake. 

Sex

A couple has sex; their bodies are hidden under a sheet, but there are moaning and movements, and they're observed by a young boy. A woman's breasts and buttocks are briefly visible as she bounces up and down on top of a man as the two have sex. 

Language

Strong language includes "s--t," "motherf----r," "f--k," and "f--king." In one scene, two adults flip the bird to a young boy who flips it back. 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A character smokes cigarettes prominently. Characters talk about meeting for the first time in a bar when both looked like they "needed" a drink.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Vivarium is a sci-fi/horror movie about a couple (Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg) that goes to look at a house and then can't escape the neighborhood. The setting is dark and dystopian, and there are few positive representations or messages to be gleaned (though one character is a teacher who clearly loves her job and children). Violence is infrequent but disturbing: An otherworldly young boy often shrieks when he's hungry or upset, an older character tries to hurt the boy and advises someone else to "let it starve," a body is discovered in a body bag (it's so dark it's hard to see exactly what's going on), and characters die and are slowly and prominently zipped into body bags and disposed of in a deep hole as well as "folded" and placed in a drawer. The movie opens with a sequence in which baby birds are pushed out of a nest -- later, their dead bodies are on the ground. A character who appears to be human suddenly transforms into something with inhuman characteristics. A couple has sex underneath a sheet with moaning and movements while a young boy watches from the bedroom door. In another scene, a woman's breasts are briefly visible as she bounces on top of a man. One character smokes cigarettes prominently. Language includes "f--k," "f--king," "motherf----r," and "s--t," as well as rude gestures. 

Wondering if Vivarium is OK for your kid?

Set preferences and get age-appropriate recommendations with Common Sense Media Plus. Join now

Continue reading Show less

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byPiesFlixPics March 27, 2020

Good start but tapered off

Not really a fable or a metaphor of society, parenthood, suburbia etc. More of a slow-paced sci fi film which dragged its feet after a promising first 15 mins.... Continue reading

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) are an ordinary couple looking for an ordinary house when a chance appointment with a strange real estate agent leads them into the VIVARIUM. Masquerading as a typical suburban neighborhood, otherworldly development Yonder holds rows of silent, uninhabited houses that all look alike -- and keeps Gemma and Tom prisoner. What is the secret of Yonder? And can Gemma and Tom escape alive?

Is it any good?

An intriguing setup, impressive visuals, and ominous sound design make this sci-fi creeper fitfully compelling, but the premise runs out of gas partway through, rendering it a bit of a slog. The film has a real Twilight Zone feel, particularly near the beginning, when a bemused Tom and Gemma discover that they're trapped in Yonder. The camera watches their white car from high above as it loops and meanders around the eerie grid of mint-colored houses, finding no escape. Later, the couple discovers a box labeled "Prospect Foods," full of vacuum-packed lamb chops and shelf-stable milk, which appears out of nowhere and disappears just as mysteriously, now filled with Tom and Gemma's dirty dishes. Tom and Gemma set up watch to see who or what is taking and delivering the boxes -- hoping to "bash their brains in" with the gardening equipment Tom brought in with them -- but the moment they look away, the box is gone. 

Moments like this are eerie, to be sure, but there's a reason why the best Twilight Zone episodes are only half an hour long. That's just long enough to introduce characters, spring a strange surprise on them, and wrap things up tidily with no dead spots in the drama. A longer running time necessitates more plot, and Vivarium is lacking in that department. Another mysterious box delivers a human (or is it?) baby to the couple, with a note that reads "Raise the child and be released." But is this unnamed new character, who grows to the size of a second-grader in a few months and shrieks unnervingly when he's hungry or bored, really a child? And just what kind of "release" can Tom and Gemma expect when the "child" has reached adulthood? The answers are slow in coming. They're nicely unnerving when they arrive, but the wait will try most viewers' patience, leaving them to check out emotionally from Tom and Gemma's plight. Still, the sight of Yonder's mint-green rows of lookalike houses, the fluffy fake clouds above, and the unsettling grinding and squeaking noises on the soundtrack aren't easily forgotten, even if this film's too-light plotline may be. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what messages the filmmakers are sending. Is Vivarium about the crushing perils of conformity? About suburbia vs. city life? About what happens to people when they commit to a relationship? Or about something else? Are the messages clear? Are they important?

  • Putting characters in an alien world is a common sci-fi setup. Why? How would Vivarium be different if it were set on a different planet or in a fantasy realm with supernatural creatures? What elements of Yonder are realistic? Which aren't? 

  • How does Vivarium use sound to affect what viewers are thinking or feeling? What types of sounds are heard at tense parts of this movie? How does the sound ramp up the tension? Is the mood different if you watch the scene with the sound turned down? 

Movie details

For kids who love eerie stories

Our editors recommend

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate