The Nest, 2020.
Written and Directed by Sean Durkin.
Starring Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Charlie Shotwell, Oona Roche, Michael Culkin, Kaisa Hammarlund, Adeel Akhtar, and Anne Reid.
Life for an entrepreneur and his American family begin to take a twisted turn after moving into an English country manor.
In The Nest (the sophomore feature from Martha Marcy May Marlene writer/director Sean Durkin), The O’Haras are living the American dream and appear to be the idyllic family. Rory (an outstanding Jude Law) is hard-working, takes an interest in his son and stepdaughter (Charlie Shotwell and Oona Roche respectively), and gives his wife Allison (Carrie Coon, matching the two-time Oscar nominee every step of the way delivering her own awards-worthy career-best performance) affection whether it’s simple attention, sexual fun, or supporting her own occupation giving horse riding lessons. All of a sudden, Rory breaks the news to her one morning: his financing work is drying up in America and they need to move to London.
There’s a telling exchange of dialogue that Rory has issues of his own, as Allison asks him for a second time if they are financially secure to which he snaps back an affirmative yes. Affirmative, but with perhaps with enough aggression to suggest that something is not right. Unfortunately, Allison’s own mother (sticking to the gender politics of the 1980s) tells her to comply and that women get married so they don’t have to make decisions or worry about important things. Clearly, Allison should be very worried. Alas, Rory has also promised her enough land to build her own stables and be her own boss, as the family will be moving to a countryside mansion that, despite apparently having history such as Led Zeppelin recording an album there, feels and is captured like an isolating haunted house.
As soon as one of the horses is transported to the new home, he starts freaking out on the spot, functioning as a metaphor that pre-existing but unaddressed issues within this family are going to boil over to the surface. The more belligerent, deceitful, greedy, and narcissistic Rory becomes, the more the horse acts up whether it’s knocking Allison off or neighing loudly into the night. Sean Durkin admittedly comes close to, well, beating the metaphor over viewers like a dead horse. Then the horse literally dies and begins to take on altered meanings as the family corrodes further.
The Nest also boasts two explosive performances; one of a hotshot living a lie (but with enough background information to inform his psychological wickedness, making for a multidimensional character) and an emotionally battered housewife catching on to all of her husband’s lies while standing up to him and seeking some liberation (there’s a dance club sequence that is freeing to watch as if Allison alongside the entire narrative is no longer under suffocation.) Naturally, as their own marital distress heightens, they inadvertently begin neglecting their children; Benjamin is getting bullied at school and Samantha is falling into the wrong crowd. Fittingly, Sean Durkin is wisely selective at letting us know what they are getting up to, intentionally keeping viewers somewhat at arm’s length just as mother and father are caught up in their own baggage, doing so without sacrificing much of any characterization for them.
Distance is such a key reason why The Nest is so arresting; the photography from Son of Saul‘s Mátyás Erdély not only excels at stroking establishing shots showing off the space of this land (especially in darkness) but often frames characters often far apart from one another. This is a family that either has never really known each other or has gone so long afraid of confronting what matters that they no longer have any idea who they are. Rory can’t even afford the current London home the family now resides in (just one of his many lies) but is eager to purchase another one midway through the film, desperate to impress and not feel like a failure. In reality, he’s a sad individual behaving the way he is for reasons explained, but for reasons that don’t make him any less pathetic.
By the time Jude Law and Carrie Coon are going at each other like Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson in last year’s masterful Marriage Story, The Nest has long absorbed viewers with its web of lies, oppressive environment, eerie classical compositions from Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, and mounting family fracturing potentially beyond repair. The closing shot won’t be for everyone, although if you believe in the old adage ‘a picture is worth 1000 words’ there’s plenty to ruminate on here.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com