CS Interview: Lorcan Finnegan on Sci-Fi Thriller Vivarium
In Vivarium, on their search for the perfect home, Gemma (Poots) and Tom (Eisenberg) visit a new house in a labyrinthine suburban neighborhood. When they attempt to leave, each road mysteriously takes them back to where they started, leading them on a mind-bending trip, trapped in a surreal nightmare.
The film stars Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), Imogen Poots (Black Christmas) Jonathan Aris (Radioactive), Danielle Ryan (Professionals), Senan Jennings (Royally Ever After), and Eanna Hardwicke (Normal People).
Vivarium is directed by Lorcan Finnegan ( Without Name , Foxes ) who co-wrote the screenplay with Garret Shanley ( Without Name , Self-Assembly ). Fantastic Films’ Brendan McCarthy and John McDonnell produced in association with Lovely Productions, in co-production with Belgium’s Frakas Productions and Denmark’s Pingpong Film. XYZ executive produced the film.
Finnegan describes him and co-writer Garret Shanley’s inspiration from the film came from the socio-political environment of Ireland in the early 2000s, as the “economic boom and subsequent crash” of the economy led the building of numerous housing developments that were left empty.
“A lot of couples by themselves were sort of trapped in these vast, empty housing developments, and were unable to sell them and were left with having to pay this gigantic mortgage,” Finnegan descried. “So they’re sort of stuck in this weird limbo. So we made the short film for that and in that kind of world, it was called Foxes in 2011. But it was a very short, supernatural little tale about this woman kind of rejoining nature in order to escape the predicament. But there are scenes that we wanted to kind of explore on a more universal scale and with the variance. And we were just kind of touching on them a little bit with the short, and yeah, that’s kind of how — that’s the beginning.”
Finnegan found the biggest challenge in bringing the concept to life was creating the world of Yonder, the fictional neighborhood in which Eisenberg and Poots find themselves trapped in. The Irish director describes that in trying to create this “artificial environment” that translated from the script, where there was “no wind, no nature, no insects, always having the same weather and fluffy white clouds,” they sought to emanate the Greek painting “Empire of Light,” but that given its smaller budget it was tricky.
“We built a set in a warehouse in Belgium, it was initially supposed to be 12 exterior houses, but by the time we got the shoot, we were into construction and everything, we could only afford to build three,” Finnegan described. “So we built the facades of three houses and three garden rows in a warehouse in Liege, which has high tax breaks. So we had to sort of shoot into the set for all of the stuff, like you’re shooting a scene and the actors have to have a background behind them, they’d have the set. But when you shoot the reverse angle, you have to flip all the lights and turn the car around, take the number off the door. It was a kind of a logistical puzzle constantly and having them sort of drive past the house and around corners and all of that was particularly tricky. It has to be done over four locations with two different countries. So the interiors of number nine were shot in Ireland on a stage, so the continuity of going in and out of the house was across two different countries, too.”
One of the biggest things Finnegan found himself excited about in bringing the project to life was reuniting Eisenberg and Poots for the third time after the duo worked together on the 2009 drama Solitary Man and last year’s acclaimed dark comedy The Art of Self-Defense , which actually helped him get the duo back together.
“I know Riley [Stearns] sort of, we’ve become online buddies over the years because he made a short film called The Cub and I made Foxes , which were both kind of hitting festivals at the same time,” Finnegan recalled. “So it was weird. When he wrapped on The Art of Self-Defense , he came to Dublin actually on the beginning of a kind of European tour, and we went drinking beers and I was just starting the casting process. But it’s just pure random luck that we ended up with the same cast. Imogen came on board first, and then when we were talking about who would get to play Tom, because this is the third time she’s worked with Jesse and she knows him so well and she kind of knows the material that he likes, she thought that Jesse might want to do this. So I thought, yeah, that could be really interesting. They’re both brilliant actors and together, they have this whole kind of interesting dynamic. So she was able to fire him off the script there and then while we were having lunch and he read it really quickly and was into it.”
When it came to blending the tone between the sci-fi nature of the story with its calmer and more humorous moments, Finnegan found that much of the “meat of the drama” comes from seeing the younger couple struggle with the “terrible stuff” happening in the film, but that the “whole thing is kind of a big, dark joke.”
“There’s always this escalating sense, or this sense of this escalating dread throughout the film,” Finnegan described. “So for us to really care about the characters, it needed to do that, and then to feel that they’re worth trying to save. And I think Imogen and Jesse kind of did a really good job of that, you know, and of portraying the real drama in the scenes. We did talk about that at the beginning, to play it very naturalistically in a very unnatural setting. It’s kind of funny in its own weird way. But I mean, definitely all the stuff with Jonathan Aris at the beginning of the film was great fun, and Martin and his super weird performance. Imogen and Jesse hadn’t met him before, and so they were getting an interesting surprise when he turned up and was acting with them in those scenes. Some of the reactions to him were quite genuine. It was actually all very good fun. Imogen and Jesse are very funny people. They’re hilarious, and so, even though everything was dark, we were having great fun and crack the whole way through.”
In creating the odd character of The Boy and hinting at his mysterious nature, Finnegan found a lot of it came from Senan Jennings, the actor portraying the younger iteration of the character who was actually cast prior to the similar-natured Martin portrayed by Jonathan Aris, whose voice was dubbed over Jennings.
“He was more of a guide in a weird way and Jonathan did all the voices in ADR,” Finnegan described. “It was a bit of an experiment that we tried during the edit, and I quite liked the results, so we decided to do it properly and we got Jonathan to re-voice the boy in ADR, to have this sort of audio vocal continuity between the different characters. But Senan’s real voice was just too cute, although he gave a really creepy performance, his real voice was quite endearing. We had to dehumanize him for the story.”
With the numerous themes and genre jumps throughout the film, Finnegan hopes that the main result is that audiences can “kind of unpack what they’re seeing” as they take away different things form the story while not wanting to tell them how to feel about the story.
“I think it’s open to interpretation and people kind of put themselves in there and have weird projections,” Finnegan said. “A few of my friends afterwards were like, ‘That film was basically my life,’ and I got some really interesting reactions in Korea, in Australia and in the States. So like, different cultures can have a different kind of an interpretation of what’s going on and take away their own thing. But ultimately, I will say life’s short. We should love each other and maybe a new generation of people can nudge us in a bloody different direction that’s less obsessed with consumer capitalism.”
Vivarium is set to hit digital platforms and VOD on Friday!