The Cycle of Life Can Be EVIL. “Vivarium” reviewed! (Screener/Vertigo Releasing)


Gemma and Tom are a happily in love young couple who are looking to purchase a starter home. They visit a real-estate agency for a brand new housing development called Yonder. Met by a strange and persuasive real-estate agent, they’re convinced to follow the unusual agent to tour the neighborhood that has been marketed as the family forever home with everything they could ever need and want. A row upon row of identical houses and yards go as far as the eye can see and before the tour of the rather ordinary house number 9 ends, Gemma and Tom find themselves alone inside with the bizarre agent gone. Their efforts to leave the mysterious residential suburbia proves impossible as each turn leads them back to house number 9. When a box containing a baby boy is left at the doorstep with a note to raise the child to be released, the young couple reluctantly reside into domestic confinement.

Vivarium defined is an enclosure, container, or structure adapted prepared for keeping animals under seminatural conditions for observation or study or as pets, like an aquarium or a terrarium. “Vivarium,” the 2019 movie, embraces the definition, twisted into an idiosyncratic neighborhood block of duplicity from the “Without Name” director, Lorcan Finnegan. Story concept is flushed out by Finnegan and “Vivarium’” credited screenwriter, Garret Stanley, in their second collaboration for the director’s sophomore feature endeavor that’s a panicking puzzle in every square foot of Yonder’s backwards backyard. The film resonates with echoes of Finnegan and Stanley’s seminal short film, “Foxes,” from 2012, revolving around a couple living in a remote and forgotten housing development and become drowning in obsession, madness, and malaise as shrieking foxes surround their isolated home. There’s an equating animalistic instinct to each film that brandishes many of the same motifs as well as joining themes that are corralled in Finnegan’s copious foreboding and disconnecting dehumanization narrative. “Vivarium” is produced by XYZ Films (“Tusk”), Fantastic Films (“Stitches”), PingPong Film, and Frakas Productions (“Raw”).

The happy, young love birds are played by Imogen Poots (“Green Room” and “Black Christmas” 2019 released remake), who has an underlining affinity for not typecasting herself in the same role, and Jesse Eisenberg (“Cursed” and “Zombieland”), who manages to step a foot outside his conventional performance of a rattle mouth, know-it-all. However, Eisenberg deserves the praise of a man with severed ties from reality as the actor embraces a reserved manic by channeling Tom’s obsessive need to dig, an aspect of his handyman profession he’s good at in perhaps providing an escape from cage-less confinement, and being the bearer of skepticism of caring for an abnormal child. Gemma has complications of her own confronting her educator responsibilities for young children. She struggles with internal conflict, does she still use her innate care and instruct a young mind or in self-preservation, take Tom’s passive aggressive approach? Poots and Eisenberg share a mutual, caring bond that defines Gemma and Tom kind of steady, kind of loose relationship that gradually devolves civilly, like the amicable breakdown of a marriage revealing lost, but not forgotten love between two people. Along with the surreal atmosphere, “Vivarium” grades well in the creepy kid department with the child in Tom and Gemma care, but don’t even bother giving a name. Dubbed with a playful man’s voice, a shrill scream ignited by displeasure, a knack for imitating, and always dressed in Sunday’s best, Senan Jennings’ middle aged boy presence is a supernova of chilling proportions with a performance that gives his co-stars a run for their money while Eanna Hardwicke is equally spasmodic and creepy as the grown up, young man version of the boy with a little more alienating know-how and clandestine about his origins.

Finnegan and Stanley pursue thought-provoking substance of human corporeal limitations and how we, as humans, cycle through them with such cavalier ease. The opening scenes examples this with the practice of the common cuckoo laying their mimicry egg inside the nests of other birds. As a brood parasite amongst birds, the cuckoo egg hatches and the cuckoo chick pushes out the mother birds’ inborn chicks and becomes the sole chick in the nest with the surrogate mother tending to the cuckoo’s dietary needs. When the cuckoo is matured, it is grossly larger than the mother bird and, also, mimics the bird species to an extent, much in the same way of the boy or young man Gemma and Tom surrogate as being the unintended mimicry that infiltrates and ousts the limitations of his foster parents. Finnegan and Stanley also explore the parental lifecycle with the theme that our children will replace us, extend our legacy, but we will ultimately be forgotten. “Vivarium’s” craft dictates a larger scale, disproportionate, otherworld teemed with secret subterranean corridors leading to other disturbing observatory immures, making for a stimulating meta-induced terrarium as we watch miniature versions of Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots suffer inside a screen from the comfort of our couch.

If you’re stuck at home, living the quarantine life you’ve always wanted, “Vivarium” may just break of your introverted stance on home with it’s “Black Mirror” and “Twilight Zone” encouragement. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vertigo Releasing and Wildcard Distribution released film has circulated digital only on the following platforms in the UK: iTunes/Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Google Play, Rakuten, BT, Playstation, Microsoft, Curzon Home Cinema, and BFI Player. Unfortunately, I will not be able to comment or critique of the audio, video, or bonus features of this release due to the varying elements of a digital screener. Novel, suspenseful, and a great film to brood over, yet difficult envisaging, “Vivarium” truly resembles slithers of somber dimensions of an upside world with lashings of surveillance paranoia.

Amazon Prime Video is one way to watch! Rent or Buy “Vivarium” with Prime Video

EVIL Doesn’t Stop Until the Director Yells “Cut” reviewed!


In 1985, director Hilary Jacobs sets her sights to finish her Australian low budget horror film, “Hot Blooded,” at all cost, but the ambitious cast and crew struggle to compete with riley personalities that slow down production. The film’s masked killer goes mad and gores with an indefinite stake into the film’s heart after mercilessly murdering Jacobs before being violently killed himself by the film’s vain star, American Vanessa Turnbill. Fourteen years have past and the “Hot Blooded” reels have been deemed cursed for whenever they’re viewed, someone dies, but a group of determined film students are keen on finishing Hilary Jacobs’ last directorial and even gain the original leading lady, Vanessa Turnbill, to return and finish her staggering performance. With the partial, unfinished reel screened by all cast and crew and filming begins shooting on the original set premises, the evil masked killer returns to finish each one off diligently before they’re able to finish the film.

With the late Wes Craven pumping new spirit into the a life support stricken slasher subgenre in 1996 with “Scream,” masked killers surged into proper restoration once more right before the turn of the century and Mushroom Pictures, the cinematic banner of one of Australia’s most notable indie music publisher, Mushroom Group, asserts their debut title into the stratosphere grazing genre that who’ve now initiated a creative footing into film production and distribution with a commemorating meta-slasher entitled “Cut.” Directed by Kimble Rendall (“Bait”) and penned by Dave warner, “Cut” dares to ride the newly rediscovered genre wave early in the wake of establishing predecessors that strived to formulate an un-formulaic counter measure against the slasher status quo, but “Cut” doubles down with Warner’s script that meshes subgenres, compounding the horror to uncharted territories where filmmakers do not dared trek sitting comfortably in their less is more recliner. “Cut” relates more to Wes Craven than most genre fans would like to admit but the similarities the two directors’ characters and killer are compelling to explore and compare. The filming is mostly shot in the Adelaide region of South Australia; the same region that produced recent horror such as 2017’s zombie post-apocalyptic “Cargo” starring Martin Freeman and the great white shark thriller “The Reef.”

Comprised mainly of an Australian cast, “Cut’s” headlining leading lady is an American “Sixteen Candles” sweetheart taking a leap into unfamiliar territory and I’m not talking about of the Outback kind. Molly Ringwald has only ever starred in one other horror film in her 40 year professional acting career and after the dismally reviewed 1997 cubicle-cutthroat thriller, “Office Killer,” the “Breakfast Club” star steps into a more complex role that involves her multi-tasking two persona performances of essentially the same character spanning a story lined fourteen years apart. As a true testament to “Cut’s” makeup and stylist department, Ringwald, who was about 30 years old at the time of filming, goes incognito as she’s barely recognizable as Chloe, a role within a role played by Vanessa Turnbill playing the teenage character in the scrapped “Hot Blooded” slasher. Though a far cry from a coming to age film, Ringwald pivots to a coming to terms with her character’s handling of prolonged fear from the fateful and deadly night the masked killer almost ended Vanessa’s life by strongly playing to the character’s overpowering sense of self worth and brash Hollywood attitude against the one thing she can’t control…her past. Vanessa is not alone in her quest for finishing a scarring afterthought as “Hot Blooded’s” newest director, student filmmaker Raffy Carruthers, picks up where Hilary Jacobs’ left off after being butchered and is determined to wrap Jacobs’ legacy short of being a hack director. As the other half of the two resilient female characters, Raffy is played by New Zealand actress Jessica Napier who channels her inner Sidney Prescott as a strong feminine survivor unnerved by the macabre that’s closing in around her brought upon a sadistic masked killer and braves sacrificing herself to thwart pure evil’s carnage. The rest of “Cut’s” cast disperses the right amount of character building performances by Sarah Knats, Stephen Curry (“Rogue”), Matthew Russell, Erika Walters, Cathy Adamek (“The Babadook”), Steve Greig, Sam Lewis, and pop singer Kylie Minogue (“Street Fighter”) whose had collaborative projects with Mushroom Group and also a role in a Kimble Rendall 11-minutel short, “Hayride to Hell.”

The meta approach “Cut” takes might detach itself from the plot of “Scream,” but in essence, the Kimble Rendall film is derivative work of Wes Craven who aimed to expose and exploit cliched tropes of the slasher flicks to upheave audiences wits on what they know about the genre and where the plot might eventually boil down to in a orthodox simmer of uncreative sensationalism. “Scream” smartly broke down plot structures, revealed character flaws, and even name dropped popular directors and films that became the very foundational basis of the Renaissance slasher era that went unchanged for years, decades perhaps. “Cut” also reasserts shout outs as references, along with Rendall’s creative knack of making every character swim in the pool of suspicion, to build up a catalytic twist no one would or could predict despite all the subtle clues, generally abundant in slashers, toward revealing the killer’s true identity and motivation. I wouldn’t be bold enough to say Rendall’s “Cut” deserves to be above or on the same level as “Scream,” because, frankly, it doesn’t, but “Cut” has a singular, unique identity with all of its own loaded modern day slasher traits such as a high kill count and an intriguing self-referential plot. Where “Cut” shakes at the knees a bit is how the practical effects were accomplished and the scores of cheesy late 90’s-to-early 2000 visual effects bared an ugly resembles of something that could have come straight out of the Super Mario Bros. film adaptation. A minority of the kills were decently crafted to bring a honorable character death, but there were many that succumb to a quick edit or stemmed from an off screen cut down that took away the breadth of impact and left more to be morbidly desired. Where “Cut” struggles shouldn’t be deemed ineligible for attention because of those reasons and, in fact, “Cut” sustains a high entertaining rating with immense value in the replay sector to catch thematical intimations and do a comparative analysis on Crave and Rendall’s films on how they experiment, treat, and respect the greats that were once lost to success over a long period mediocre financial and routine blundering.

Umbrella Entertainment and Beyond distribution debuts the Blu-ray release of the Mushroom Pictures and Kimble Rendall’s “Cut” with a full HD, 1080p 4K restoration from the original film’s 35mm interpos and presented in a widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The 4K scan illuminates the hard, dark lighting used primarily for tone setting, granting an extremely gothic look without being inside the parameters of inherently gothic set design and the scanned transfer also revitalizes the snaps of color where appropriate while still leaving the natural grain from the 35mm filmstock. The English language dual channel DTS-HD Master Audio track has lossy quality because there is such contentious and explosive moments that warrant audio quality; however, the 2.0 track is sufficient to lay simple groundwork of depth, range, and clarity and the soundtrack, no matter how generic, elevates to a concentrated level with the killer on the hunt. Dialogue murkiness is no issue here with a clear path of discernible lines. Special features seem limited and antiquated for a 4K, Blu-ray debut release, but do include archived cast interviews with Molly Ringwald, Kyle Minogue, Jessica Napier, and Kimble Rendall, behind-the-scenes of some of the shots, a commentary with director Kimble Rendall and writer Dave Warner, storyboard and concept art gallery, “Hayride to Hell” short from Rendall that stars Minogue and Richard Roxburgh, and the theatrical trailer of the film. The back cover states a region B disc, but my player was set on A and prior press releases suggested a region free release so this particular gem should play in any region. If a die hard Wes Craven fan, place the 20-years-young “Cut” into your queue as a forward thinking slasher with brass balls and a marred killer with modified gardener sheers that provokes the genre still to this day.

Why settle for standard definition when “Cut” makes a 1080p debut onto Blu-ray!!! Click to buy it now!