In Vitro‘ is another fascinating addition to Australia’s recent string of genre flicks – Sydney Film Festival Review

Genre films are always interesting places to explore such complex themes. Breaking down the aspects of humanity against the backdrop of a science-fiction or thriller tale allows for interesting allegories to enhance stories and characters.

Over the last few years, up and coming Australian filmmakers, much like In Vitro directors Will Howarth and Tom McKeith (who co-wrote the screenplay with star Talia Zucker), have excitingly relished in genre filmmaking with weird and captivating concepts that have explored a variety of intriguing themes.

Leaning into the sci-fi genre. In Vitro follows a husband and wife, Jack (Ashely Zukerman, Succession) and Layla (Talia Zucker), who live on an isolated farm where Jack conducts biotechnology experiments that involve creating and cloning cattle after an ecological disaster destroy cattle production across the country

While the reserved and mild-mannered Jack spends his days working on his experiments, Layla often feels the brunt of the isolation whenever she remembers her son who is away at a boarding school. Feeling like her connection with Jack is always fading away, the discovery of something, or someone, on the farm causes Layla to begin questioning whether something more sinister is at play.

It’s apparent early on in In Vitro that the power dynamic in the relationship between Jack and Layla toxically skews towards Jack. It was his idea to move to the farm, his idea to put their son in boarding school, and his idea to make sure Layla does not leave the farm at any point, despite her desires to return to any form of society.

The domestic abuse element of the film is subtle in a way that hauntingly reflects real life. The screenplay and performances display the control Jack has over Layla in a very low-key way, shying away from the potential fictional cliches of extreme violence. Jack’s abuse stems from a psychological angle, with certain words and emotional torture that continually manipulates Layla. It’s disturbing in its own nuanced way, and carries the emotional weight of the film.

The science-fiction nature of the film is both interesting, acting as a commentary on the current nature of the globe’s ecological state and the terrifying trajectory it is on, but also portrayed in an accessible way for audiences. It’s difficult to elaborate too much on the biotechnological experiments without delving too far into spoiler territory, but the concepts that are played around with by Howarth and McKeith are fascinating.

Both Zucker and Zukerman are intriguingly understated in this film, something that works for the story’s tone. Layla’s repressed fear, often seen through the eyes of Talia Zucker, is at play with the dull, emotionless eyes that Jack besets upon his wife when they converse, often making the audience wonder what is truly happening inside of his mind at that point. The performances compliment each other well, and amplify the unease of the film’s situation.

In Vitro can somewhat feel a little underdeveloped for a 90-odd minute runtime. Some narrative threads are left unexplored, while the brooding, patient nature of the story can feel like it drags out a little too long, affecting the pacing of the film. The balance of themes and events in the film is a touch off, and a decent stretch of the middle of the film comes to a slight stand still.

In Vitro is another interesting and well-crafted addition to the recent string of Australian genre films that have been taking the world by storm. The story features an interesting concept that backdrops a decent character drama that explores the confronting theme of domestic abuse, brought to life by great performances from Talia Zucker and Ashley Zuckerman.

In Vitro is currently playing at the 71st Sydney Film Festival, and will release in Australia cinemas later in 2024.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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Genre films are always interesting places to explore such complex themes. Breaking down the aspects of humanity against the backdrop of a science-fiction or thriller tale allows for interesting allegories to enhance stories and characters. Over the last few years, up and coming Australian filmmakers,...'In Vitro' is another fascinating addition to Australia's recent string of genre flicks - Sydney Film Festival Review