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Vivarium: An Intriguing Movie With An Exceptional Set-up

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Near enough.
And far enough.
Just the right distance.

 

During this Corona crisis, watching a movie was an impossible task for me. Let alone that I could write down a sensible word to form an opinion. But now three weeks later, the urge to watch a movie once again came back. And I could focus on the movie without my mind wandering off to some disaster scenarios. Apparently, my doom thinking disappeared. And hurray. Even the traditional formulation of an opinion was possible again. Only the choice of film was a bit unfortunate. “Vivarium” isn’t exactly a movie that’ll make you happy. It has many similarities with the situation people in the world are in today. Isolated and tied to one specific living space. No contact with others. And a feeling of powerlessness, fear, and despair. However, it’s not a deadly virus why Gemma (ImogenGreen RoomPoots) and Tom (JesseThe Social NetworkEisenberg) are in this situation.

 

Vivarium

It looks like a painting by Magritte.

Let me warn you first. “Vivarium” isn’t exactly an everyday film. It’s very confusing and probably boring to some. Not only because of the painfully slow pace. But also because of the repetitive character of the film. And mainly, because of the completely surreal and absurd theme of this film. To be honest, from the start I had the feeling that I was looking at a surreal painting by Margritte. Those artificial, unnatural looking perfect clouds against a clear blue sky. The identical row houses in a distasteful green color. Everything looks artificial and unreal. As insignificant and abstract as the name of the neighborhood itself: “Yonder”.

 

Vivarium

How do we get out of here?

Gemma and Tom, a young couple that wants to settle down and are looking for an affordable home, end up at a real estate agency one day. The eerie-sounding and unworldly-reacting real estate agent invites them to visit a house in a suburb that’s just been built. At first sight a well-kept neighborhood. But at the same time a frightening neighborhood where all houses and gardens look identical. While Gemma and Tom visit the house, with house number 9, they’ve actually made a decision already. While viewing the nursery, bright blue and therefore already intended as a boys’ room, they suddenly realize that the real estate agent Martin (Jonathan Aris) has vanished into thin air. And after a while they discover that they’re not getting out of this maze of identical houses in any way. They have to accept that they are forever trapped in this artificial world.

 

Vivarium

What an annoying and strange little boy.

From then on, “Vivarium” becomes an uncomfortable film. As a viewer, you feel the despair and watch the youthful and lively couple evolve into an apathetic and indifferent duo whose daily routine consists of eating tasteless astronaut food and caring for a bizarre child. They found the boy at their front door in a cardboard box. Raising this child would be an opportunity to escape, as the message reads on the box. Only this toddler creates a conflict between Gemma and Tom. Not only does the boy’s behavior create tension. Their relationship with this strange little boy is also different. The little fellow seems to be not of this world, as well. His growth pattern isn’t normal. His behavior and way of communicating (he speaks with the voice of Gemma and Tom) are both absurd and annoying. The psychotic shouting until he gets his way would make me go ballistic for sure. And that’s how Tom responds. While Gemma, as a kindergarten teacher, creates a stronger bond with the nasty little boy, Tom reacts hostile and turns to digging a bottomless pit. Probably to find a way out.

 

Vivarium

I thought it was a captivating movie.

Don’t expect a conclusive explanation at the end of the movie. To be honest, there were as many open questions at the end of the movie as there were at the beginning. The final message was not really clear to me. Is it about the colorless and monotonous, routine life that some of us lead? Is it an indictment of our modernist and materialistic society? Or a satirical view of that society? Or are aliens using humanity to breed their species in an infinite cycle? Like the cuckoo at the beginning. Maybe I expected a little more. But in the end I thought “Vivarium” was an intriguing movie with an exceptional set-up, kind of unusual images and yet some admirable acting. In particular Imogen Poots left a lasting impression. However, I fear that not everyone will share the same opinion.

 

My rating 6/10
Links: IMDB

Reviews

Memories of Murder (2003) | A Gripping Thriller from Start to Finish

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Bong Joon-Ho’s second feature length film was given a stunning 4K re-release in select cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema last week and it is a real treat to watch- particularly in a cinema. A smart, and surprisingly funny, thriller that really delivers and holds up for the entirety of its 131 minute runtime

Since Parasite became the first foreign film ever to win Best Picture at the Oscars back in February, director Bong has been the man of the moment and audiences around the world have been discovering his fantastic filmography and watching his great films such as The Host (2006), Mother (2009) and Snowpiercer (2013) to name some of my personal favourites. Previously Memories of Murder was practically impossible to find in the U.K. at a reasonable price so Curzon’s re-release was a real wallet-saver and I was so pleased to be able to see it.

Memories of Murder is loosely based on the true story revolving around a set of the first serial murders in Korea. The film follows three detectives trying to crack the case of who has been raping and murdering the local women of a small town in Korea and stars Song Kang-Ho (Parasite) as the lead detective.

It’s been about a week since I saw the film but it has been on my mind ever since. It really is a lot to take in and yet it stands out as an incredible piece of filmmaking right away. We instantly take a liking to Song Kang-Ho’s Detective Park Doo-Man and he brings a certain level of charm to the film. Much like Parasite, the film is actually very funny and witty in the first hour before the next 70 minutes completely rip you apart and change your entire perspective of the film. For a film revolving around a killer who rapes and murders his victims, I laughed far more than I had any right to. And it wasn’t just me laughing, there were multiple times when the entire cinema was laughing because Bong manages to do an incredible thing in blending genres. Whilst Memories of Murder is a dark thriller at heart, there is surprisingly a lot in here to laugh at and to bring a smile to your face at times.

But over time, as the film builds towards its crescendo, the laughs start to fade away as the detectives keep picking away at the case with little luck and the laughs turn into terror. The tension continues to build all the way through the end and the final 30 minutes of this film is truly edge of your seat material that will leave you entranced. It’s truly remarkable that director Bong has crafted a film that tonally, is in many places at once and yet you still feel the terror of the murders for the whole duration of the film, even when you’re laughing and even when you’re on the train home half an hour later. I walked out of the cinema in awe at the film and lost for words, and now, over a week later, I have managed to find some words to describe it but I am still in just as much awe.

A fantastic film, delivered with great skill by director Bong Joon-Ho, that fills the audience with fear throughout and ends with an incredibly chilling final shot that will leave you speechless, proving that Bong was one of the greatest directors in the world, long before Parasite weaved its way into our lives.

Rating: 4.5/5

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The Devil All the Time | A Psychological Thriller That Doesn’t Thrill Much

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The devil All the time? Perhaps the devil should take a break. Clocking in at 138 minutes long, Antonio Campos’ latest film is long, cold and dark and probably not worth your time- at least it isn’t worth all your time.

The Devil All the Time (2020) is a psychological thriller based on the novel of the same name with an all-star cast that hit Netflix earlier this month. Starring Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Far From Home), Robert Pattinson (TENET) Bill Skarsgard (It), Sebastian Stan (Avengers: Infinity War), Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) and Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland), you’d really expect this film to be a treat. Whilst the cast deliver good performance, the film sadly fails to deliver much else.

The film revolves around various mysterious character’s but mainly Holland’s Arvin Russell, son of Skarsgard’s Willard Russell as he fights against the various evil forces in Knockemstiff, Ohio and it’s surrounding woods. The problem this film has it has too many characters and we don’t really get sufficient depth to any of the characters. Right from the start of the film we experience Donald Ray Pollock’s narration and at the start of the film, the narration serves to set up the various characters and themes linking the film, after the first act, the narration gets very tiresome and rather unnecessary. Rather than helping to explain certain themes or telling us more about certain characters, the narration was just spoon-feeding us information. At times the narration was merely explaining things that were happening on screen and it felt like as an audience, we were being treated like school children having everything explained to us and not like an intelligent audience who are able to understand a film by themselves.

The performances themselves were rather good for the most part. It’s great to see Holland shine in another role outside of the Marvel Universe and Pattinson is having a stellar year with another great performance here, only weeks after Christopher Nolan’s TENET hit cinemas around the world. Whilst the acting is good, the characters themselves are very shallow. We never really get to see much beyond generic villainy for some characters or just others as the victim. For a dark thriller- and this is a very dark film- you really want to be able to connect with the characters on a much deeper level than that of victimhood. And if you’re not invested in any of the characters, the film doesn’t deliver the same punch that the filmmakers intended it to. Whilst Pattinson and Holland shine, Sebastian Stan unfortunately felt very miscast; he just didn’t fit the persona of the Sheriff he was supposed to be playing at all making his character even less appealing

The film could have done with being a bit shorter as well. At almost 2 hours and 20 minutes, it’s not a short film and when you’re 90 minutes into the film and you don’t really feel invested in any of the characters at all, you begin to wonder how the next 50 minutes will fare. The sad truth is that the film eventually gets very boring and becomes much like a chore to complete. If the characters had been presented better, perhaps it wouldn’t have felt as long or as much of a chore to finish but sadly this wasn’t the case.

Overall, The Devil All the Time (2020) is a fair attempt at dark, gritty psychological thriller but ultimately it fails to make much out of the top cast due to poorly written, rather one dimensional characters.

Rating: 2.5/5

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Enola Holmes | Very Much Worth A Watch

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Enola Holmes [Netflix]

‘Enola Holmes’ is one of those films that confirms my belief that I will never make a serious film critic. There will no doubt be people who will review this film pointing out the number of flaws, from the inaccurate backdrops to the overtly political messages (BLM and Feminism are all over this film, which personally made me love it more), but none of that concerns me. I thought it was terrific fun and enjoyed it immensely.

I watched this with my 12-year-old daughter who is probably slap bang in the demographic target audience of this film, and like me, she loved it. What is clear is that this is a career goal vehicle for star and producer Millie Bobby Brown, who is allowed to show off her considerable comic timing, her tough as nails action abilities and demonstrate an emotional side she has shown so well previously in three years of ‘Stranger Things,’ and you know what it works. She is a completely enchanting screen presence from the moment we meet her as she clumsily, comedically struggles to ride a bike across a field.

The constant breaking of the 4th wall with narrations and knowing winks to the camera may grate on a few, but I thought it added to the charm of the whole piece, nobody is taking this too seriously, and that surely is the point. Henry Cavill comes in as older brother Sherlock in casting that probably helped get the film made, with Cavill turning up occasionally as the reassuring presence in Enola’s life, but is generally given very little to do. Likewise, Helena Bonham Carter is a touch of familiarity but is sparsely used. The subplot involving the darker side of Bonham Carter’s Eudoria’s disappearance isn’t fully explored and is one of the lower aspects of the film.

The film itself isn’t all slapstick, sweetness and light, Burn Gorman’s Linthorn is at the top end of sinister as a hired hitman who would have served as an equally terrifying adversary in one of older brother Sherlock’s adventures, and Sam Claflin has great fun as moustache-twirling “nasty” older brother Mycroft Holmes.

The film lags a little in the middle third which after the breakneck pace of the opening act is to be somewhat expected but picks up sufficiently for a more than satisfying conclusion.

Like most child stars, the true test is when that child becomes an adult, and Millie Bobby Brown has proved here that she has the presence and personality to be able to have a long and varied career. Only time will tell of course, but if nothing else this is a film that can be enjoyed for years to come. Great fun all round.

You can follow me on Twitter @DomHolder  and read some of my reviews on Letterboxd at letterboxd.com/DomH and read some more of my film blogs on dominicholder.wordpress.com/

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