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Lorcan Finnegan • Director of Vivarium

“There is an element of horror in the everyday”


- We talked to Lorcan Finnegan, the Dublin-born director of Vivarium, a brand-new take on the suburban dream

Lorcan Finnegan  • Director of Vivarium

Now taking over the Sitges and Warsaw Film Festivals following its Cannes debut in the Critics’ Week, the brilliant Vivarium [+see also:
film review
interview: Lorcan Finnegan
film profile
by Irish helmer Lorcan Finnegan sees Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg trapped in the house they were hoping to start a family in. And not just metaphorically speaking. We spoke to Finnegan about his movie.

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Cineuropa: This idea of domesticity still seems to be freaking people out – you only need think about George A Romero and his approach to supermarkets. Once you look at it from another angle, it’s petrifying.
Lorcan Finnegan:
There is an element of horror in the everyday that Garret [Shanley], the writer I was working with, and I were really interested in – taking something that’s normal and looking at it in a different light until it becomes very strange. We made a short film in 2011 called Foxes, and it was our socio-political comment on what was going on in Ireland. These housing developments were springing up everywhere, built really far away from the cities. They were trying to maximise the number of houses you could fit into one space and maximise profits, with zero interest in how people were going to live there. But it was more of a supernatural story, and there were still some ideas I wanted to explore, in this 1960s or 1970s sci-fi kind of way.

We are told that’s what we are supposed to do: buy a house, plant a tree, bear a son. Were you trying to show that this whole concept can turn into a parasite, eating you alive? You take a mortgage, pay it your whole life and then you die.
That’s the thing – it’s a social contract. We constantly see these glossy ads, images of cufflinks and people holding asparagus, shit like that. You are supposed to want this; that’s how they sell it to you. And a lot of people that buy into it have a horrible time. They feel they have been tricked, a bit like Jesse’s character, digging this hole all the time.

Our story is universal, or tries to be, anyway, so we needed characters that would feel normal. Not a crazy rock star or a celebrity chef! But once you start casting, a lot of guys look like Gillette models. I met Imogen first, and we forgot to talk about the script – we just talked about art and music. She was the one who suggested Jesse. She sent him the script on her phone, then and there. He just related to the story.

Maybe that’s because for all the crazy elements, it’s still recognisable? Especially for any parent, struggling with this odd creature demanding all their attention.
I met someone in London who thought the whole film was about motherhood. She could see herself in that character. Someone else said that he also feels like he has spent all his life digging a hole [laughs]. People can see the normal drama of life in it, even though it’s exaggerated in order to show the absurdity of it all. We are not trying to say: “Don’t do it, it’s bad.” It’s more about looking at the kind of life that’s being pushed towards us. And they advertise it so heavily that people start to believe it. It’s aspirational. If you make films, you can never afford a house in Ireland anyway, but there is this anxiety once you start thinking about what you are “supposed” to have achieved by a certain age. Getting a mortgage is such a big thing – in Ireland, we are obsessed with property and owning things. It’s all just greed, I suppose.

Did you always want them to be so isolated?
It was based on the whole idea of isolation in a place where you might have neighbours – they just don’t talk to each other. A lot of these places are just completely devoid of communities. That’s the biggest loss that’s happening at the moment. In a more sci-fi way, they are not alone: other houses are occupied by people who have been trapped as well; they are just vibrating on a different frequency, like in string theory.

There is a Pleasantville vibe to it, for sure.
I was thinking about these post-war suburbs, which had something weird and calculated about them. Then there was the photography of Andreas Gursky, which has a lot of repetition, or The Empire of Light by Magritte, with all these fluffy clouds in the sky. I studied graphic design, so I got into film through art. I don’t know if there is a new wave of filmmakers who grew up watching a lot of The Twilight Zone or Tales of the Unexpected, or if the world is so fucked up now that people feel they have to react to it in some other way. Genre is a good way of doing that because you are not barred by realism. This one was tricky, as there were still certain rules, but they could be as weird as we wanted them to be. I wanted this place to have a synthetic quality but, at the same time, seem tangible, you know? It looks fake, but you can touch it. It’s a strange environment. And a strange film.

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