Director Lorcan Finnegan’s sophomore feature VIVARIUM centres on couple Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) who during their search for the perfect home, find themselves trapped in a mysterious labyrinth-like suburban neighbourhood named Yonder. All attempts to escape end in failure, culminating in the discovery of a baby on the pavement with the instructions “raise the child and be released.”


In conversation with FRIGHTFEST, Finnegan spoke about his intent to create an “anxiety inducing film”, and the relationship between cinema, dreams and the collective unconscious that creates “bizarre human behaviour.”


FRIGHTFEST: Why film as a means of creative expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment for you personally?


Not really. I studied graphic design and then I got into motion graphics and animation. I was making little sketchy things, or little animated shorts that were a minute long, and shooting some stuff with my friends. When you’re then trying to do stuff that‘s more challenging, you end up working towards making feature films because it’s a very collaborative and creatively challenging endeavour.


LORCAN FINNEGAN: I’ve obviously always enjoyed watching movies, but it wasn’t a plan, and when I was younger I never wanted to be a director.


FF: Could the yearning to be a filmmaker compared to the lack of youthful aspiration influence the voice of the filmmaker?


LF: With some films you can tell that a filmmaker is a fan of certain directors, because you can see those influences quite clearly in the films that they go onto make. This must be very different because you’re comfortable with referencing things, whereas I’m always trying to not imitate other films. But you can’t help referencing everything you’ve ever watched, because everything you’ve ever done ends up in your subconscious, and when you are creating a film you end up delving into that subconscious area. It’s where you’re acting on impulse, and I suppose you do draw off everything you have ever seen.


FF: Inspiration is different to imitation and cinema is after all a shared language. Recalling the idea that there are so many archetypal stories, is one of the reasons because films like dreams serve to help us to understand our world? Hence, are the same stories told again and again in order to help each generation deal with those cyclic themes that collectively confront us?


LF: It’s fascinating because Garret Shanley, the writer and I are always talking about this, and how films are like the collective unconscious of everyone. It’s like there’s a network between everyone’s minds, preoccupations and anxieties, a bit like the fibrous network of mushrooms underground that pop up as mushrooms, but in this case they pop up as films. It’s almost a way of examining ourselves and how we need to manifest those preoccupations as films, so that we can properly look at and talk about them. It’s bizarre human behaviour.


FF: A central theme of the film is the absence of control to make common choices, from buying a house to the decision to start a family. Cinema is effective at heightening our common fears or anxieties, and the audience by projecting their own anxiety onto the screen forges a collaborative relationship with the story.


LF: VIVARIUM was always supposed to be an experience - for you to experience what they’re experiencing, and to feel that anxiety. It’s an anxiety inducing film, and even the colour of the houses was chosen to create anxiety because that green works on a psychological level. When we were starting out with this project we spoke about wanting to tap into what it is that young people are really afraid of these days. They might be afraid of a monster, but only for a moment. On a more philosophical and psychological level, what a lot of people are afraid of is not being able to afford a house, or if they do then it has to be somewhere miles away. And they’re going to have to take out a mortgage and take a job they don’t really want in order to pay back that mortgage, and they’re are going to be paying it back for their whole lives, trapped in this contract with the bank and with society, while all their hopes and dreams wither away as they get stuck in a routine. This is the existential dread of the youth, and so we started digging into and examining it, and that’s how the story began.




FF: The psychoanalyst C.G. Jung contextualised dreams as a means for us to solve the problems we cannot solve in our waking state. If VIVARIUM functions on a dream logic, is it Gemma’s dream or Tom’s? But because we don’t always dream of ourselves, could the film be that of an ambiguous figure?


LF: Films are probably the closest thing to recreating the experience of a dream – time can be manipulated across the run time of a film, and in the way things are edited and rearranged it can be fractured.


So yeah, who’s dream is it, or is it the audience’s dream that begins as a friendly dream and ends up in a nightmare? Jesse always described the script as a fever dream, the kind you’d have if you were sick, and that does make sense.


FF: The aesthetic is designed to create an uncanny feeling, but the performances that are naturalistic mirror the aesthetic through an occasional gesture or expression that feels off.


LF: It was an experiment in a way and one that I hoped was going to work. The challenge was having naturalistic performances in a very extraordinary, heightened and slightly surreal environment. So instead of them acting weird in a strange place, they were to act normal and very grounded. But if part of their performance does sometimes seem uncanny here and there, it’s maybe because of the environment and the extraordinary things that they are being put through. We built the set so what they were looking at was tangible and weird, so some of their reactions were to the surreal set that we were even on, and so that’s what gives the performance that strangeness every now and again.


But then Jonathan Aris’s character Martin at the beginning is completely in that uncanny valley area of performance, almost like the early stages of a psychedelic experience where things are funny, but a little bit frightening. And that was an important way of getting the audience into the vibe of the film, and also accepting the strangeness of Yonder. So having that scene in the estate agents is almost a bridge between the real world and this dreamlike world, a limbo that connects these two worlds.


FF: Filmmaker Christoph Behl remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film, you are not the same person as you were before.” Do you perceive there to be a transformative aspect to the creative process for you personally?


LF: Definitely and it depends on the film. My first film, WITHOUT NAME was easier to make. We were shooting on location and it was an enjoyable experimental learning experience, but VIVARIUM was so tough to make. It was stepping up to a whole new level of ambition as well, that by the time I finished it, yeah, I did feel that I was a different person in a weird way.


There’s the theory that within, I can’t remember how long it is, but every single cell in your body will have been replaced, so essentially you are a different person. But going through the process of making a film, especially a tough one, it does change you.


Paul Risker.


VIVARIUM is released on digital 27 March 2020 by Vertigo Releasing.


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