Best of 2020: Bartees Strange Talks Vivarium

The horror movie hit close to home for the Live Forever artist.

I love horror movies a lot — horror and sci fi are, like, my favorite shit in the world. My favorite movie of the last few years is Hereditary. I’m into real life, but hyped up — like a slightly way-ultra-real rendition of life, but centered around a theme that everyone understands. There’s a movie that came out this year called Vivarium — it wasn’t a huge, super popular movie but it hit me in the chest. 

The best way I could describe it is as a mystery or sci fi movie. It’s by Lorcan Finnegan, and it stars Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots. Basically, the premise of the movie is that Jesse and Imogen are school teachers who are in a long–term relationship. Imogen is like, “Yo, I wanna get married and buy a house”; Jesse is a little standoff-ish, typical guy in a movie like, “Ah, she wants to get married, blah blah, cold feet.” But he wants to get married too, so they’re kind of slowly looking for a house to build their family, and eventually they go to a real estate office. The real estate agent represents this community called Yonder, and he’s like, “You’ve gotta check out this housing community, it’s the perfect price range, perfect to start a family in. You wanna live here, let me show it to you, it’s the last thing I’ll show you before you leave.” They’re like, “Fine, we’ve really got other stuff to do today but we’ll check it out.”

The real estate agent takes them to this beautiful neighborhood, but it looks like Pleasantville — all the houses are cookie cutter, all the yards are the same. It’s like this big maze of a suburban neighborhood that’s perfect on all accounts. They walk to the house and are like, “Wow, it’s really quiet, we don’t hear any neighbors.” And the agent is like, “Yeah, it’s a new development, but there’ll be more people moving in.” Jesse and Imogen are talking and they’re like, “This is kind of weird, let’s get out of here,” and they turn around to leave and the real estate agent’s car is completely gone. They hop in their car like, “Let’s get out of here,” and they drive for 20 minutes but they can’t find the exit. They eventually drive the entire night through the neighborhood looking for the exit but they can’t get out; they just keep ending up back at their house. 

When they get back to the house, there’s a box in front of it — they open it up, and there’s a baby in it! There’s a note that says, “You have to raise the baby, and that’s when we’ll let you out of the house.” The movie then kind of devolves, because the baby isn’t a normal baby. It’s kind of like an alien or something — he hears everything in the house, mimics what they say, and talks with a grown up voice. Whenever they fight, the baby copies the entire fight and yells it back at them in their exact voices when they’re trying to sleep. It’s absolutely horrifying. 

The thing that hit me the most was — I’m 31 years old, and I’m at the point in my personal relationship where we’re talking about families and houses and kids. So I felt like the movie was about if you did do something too soon that was permanent. Looking back, Jesse obviously didn’t want to go through with moving as quickly into that phase of the relationship. And I don’t think his partner wanted to either, but she was kind of doing it because it felt like it was the right thing to do at that time. So the movie is kind of the nightmare hyped up version of moving too quickly. I thought it was really interesting. I don’t feel like that in my relationship, but I’ve definitely been in relationships where I’ve been like, “Woof, am I moving too fast?” 

I watched the movie on streaming, and I actually think it wouldn’t be good on the big screen. It’s not action-themed, and the sound isn’t a primary focal–point of the movie. I think it’s perfect in your house with your partner — that’s the scariest way to watch it. 

Bartees Strange’s Live Forever is out now. 

As told to Annie Fell.

Bartees Strange was born in Ipswich, a town in Suffolk, England. His family did stints in Germany, Greenland, and a number of states across America before he hit his 12th birthday when they settled in Mustang, Oklahoma. Bartees began producing music for friends with a small project studio he built out of a Tascam 388, the family computer and a pirated copy of FL Studio. Through AOL instant messenger, Bartees connected with old friends in the UK, who brought him up to speed on a new world of sonic influence led by Bloc Party, Burial, Robyn and Skream. College, and a half-decade stint in Brooklyn connected him with the rising indie scene — particularly favorites like Bon Iver, TV on The Radio, Frank Ocean, James Blake, King Krule, Japanese Breakfast, Mt. Kimbie, Mitski, Thao Nguyen, and The National, giving him a crash course in lyrical intrigue and textural brilliance.

Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy is a summary of his influences and the first commercial release by an artist who we truly think can go on to become a cultural influencer in his own right. Bartees resides in Washington, DC — where makes music and works at a non profit fighting against climate change and poverty.

(Photo Credit: Bao Ngo)