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Vivarium: An interview with Director Lorcan Finnegan

One of the advantages that the world of film has seen during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the number of more alternative films that have been given a voice as cinema chains and streaming platforms have scrambled for material.

By David Griffiths

Saturday 11 July 2020, 11:00AM

With Hollywood very unlikely to produce any content until late this year, film lovers have seen a large number of films screen that normally would be hidden away into obscurity.

One such film is the award-winning thriller Vivarium, which first came to international attention when it joined the list of winners at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. With cinemas starved for content Vivarium, which stars Hollywood A-Listers Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, has suddenly found itself on screens in Thailand, Australia and across Europe. 

The good news is that if you haven’t been able to see it on the big screen, it is also now available on streaming services as well. The Phuket News was lucky enough to recently sit down with Vivarium director Lorcan Finnegan to discuss the film.

“It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment,” says Finnegan laughing when he is asked where the initial idea came from to make a film that literally shows the horrors of modern day suburbia.

“The writer, Garret Shanley, and I worked on a short film together in 2011 called Foxes. That film was a reaction to what was happening politically in Ireland at the time – there were all these housing developments springing up everywhere. The economy was doing really well – it really was the time of the Celtic Tiger because Ireland was doing so well with the economy.

“But then the crash came in 2008,” Finnegan says, continuing. “That resulted in a lot of these houses in those developments being left abandoned. Now they are called ghost estates, so we set our short film in one of these locations but when we made that film we realised that we were really only scratching the surface for some of the themes that we were exploring, so when we finished we wondered how we could explore those themes a little bit more in-depth. We wanted to explore those ideas in a sci-fi way and make it a much more universal story.”

Hence the idea for Vivarium was born and the result was a film that sees Eisenberg and Poots portray a young couple who literally become trapped when they try to purchase their dream home. With such brilliant performances from the film’s leads it comes as a bit of a surprise to learn that they were not upstarts for their roles.

“There was actually a bit of a process there,” explains Finnegan as we begin to talk about Poots and Eisenberg. “Imogen became involved first. We met and got on really well and she loved the script. We realised that she was perfect to play Gemma but then we were wondering who we could get to play Tom. There are not many male actors around that age who are willing to play second-fiddle to a female lead, because it really is her story.

“So we got this list together that had various actors on it and we began to talk about Jesse Eisenberg,” says Finnegan as his tone noticeably becomes more excited.

“Imogen had worked with Jesse before, so she knew him and she knew the kinds of films and material that he would respond to, and she thought he would like this… and I found that really interesting.”

As a film, Vivarium has won over a legion of fans right around the world and Finnegan laughs when our discussion makes him realise that for some people they will be experiencing it for the first time while in lockdown.

“I guess after watching the film they will realise that lockdown is not so bad,” he says laughing hard. “It is a weird, surreal story – it was funny, creepy, sad and you are going to have to be a little bit open-minded to come out the other side of it because it is a little unconventional.”

Vivarium is now available on a range of streaming platforms. It has been classified ‘15’ in Thailand.

David Griffiths has been working as a film and music reviewer for over 20 years. That time has seen him work in radio, television and in print. You can follow him at

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