I don’t read anything about movies before I watch them, and I generally avoid even the trailers so that the experience is new and unspoiled. This time I accidentally heard someone lament of Vivarium, “This is weird for weird’s sake.” Well, this is almost never actually true, it’s the sort of critique unimaginative people make of movies I happen to really like, darnit. This movie is weird, but it’s weird with purpose.
The pre-title scene is nature footage of a baby cuckoo pushing the other chicks out of the nest and screechingly demanding food from a brown thrush mother that is dwarfed by the grotesque creature. Gemma (Imogen Poots), a teacher, explains how this works to a child, who asks why cuckoos do this? “That’s nature. That’s just the way things are.”
“I don’t like the way things are. It’s horrible.”
Gemma and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) are a pretty typical young couple. She’s a cool teacher, he’s an awkward manchild. They’re looking for a new home, and drop in on a realtor named Martin (Jonathan Aris), who would be happy to show them a model home that he thinks will be ideal for them in the “Yonder” development. “Near enough. And far enough. Just the right distance.”
Now, I love Martin. Martin is absolutely my favorite part of this film. Martin at first glance is an office drone with Ken-doll hair. He is pale, he smiles at inappropriate times with a stiff rictus, and his every move and facial expression is android-like and effortful.
They’re not really convinced by Martin, but agree to come with him to look at the place. It is bleak, with industrial-green homes with Astroturf lawns lying in row after row of soulless, empty clones. Gemma and Tom are fairly repulsed.
When Martin abandons them there we hear the first dark notes in the soundtrack. They soon find that no matter how far they drive, no matter what turns they take, they keep winding up back at number 9. They are trapped.
Frustrated, Tom lights the house on fire, but it is completely restored the next day, and there is a new delivery: a baby. A message on the box reads, “Raise the child and be released.”
The child, credited only as Young Boy (Senan Jennings) grows super fast. Within 98 days he is speaking exactly like the androidal Martin, and screeching to be fed. Not only are they trapped, they’re trapped with a cuckoo.
This is mostly a three-person, one-setting film, and it is, indeed, weird, but it is carefully, purposefully weird, and I really enjoyed it. The kid is wonderful, the adults are relatable if a bit bland, the stylized set design is cartoon-perfect. This is the horror of suburbia, the horror of complacency, the horror of loss of individuality. The horror of every generation growing up wanting their own life and thinking it just might not be possible.
Street Date: 5/12/20 Blu-ray™ + Digital SRP: $21.99 DVD SRP: $19.98
Rating: 9 Cuckoos out of 10