Director: Sean Durkin
Writer: Sean Durkin
Cast: Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Charlie Shotwell, Oona Roche
Cinematographer: Mátyás Erdély
Editor: Matthew Hannam
Streaming on: BookMyShow Stream
A decade after his first feature, the excellent Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011), writer-director Sean Durkin returns with another tale of a family whose members may mean well, but are unable to give each other what they need. The Nest is a slow-burn portrait of a fraying marriage that plays out like a Greek tragedy about the fate that befalls victims of their own hubris. When trader Rory O’Hara (Jude Law) accepts a job offer that requires his family to uproot their lives in suburban New York and move to bleak Surrey, the new destination simply becomes a way to contextualise the journey — the O’Haras were always on the road to ruin, they just didn’t know it until now.
Durkin twists the knife slowly. The film opens with the facade of the O’Haras’ New York home. It’s an unassuming image, but the background score is discordant and haunting. Rory wakes up his wife, Allison (Carrie Coon), with a kiss and a cup of coffee. She heads off to a job she loves while he plays with their son (Charlie Shotwell). Their daughter (Oona Roche) nails a gymnastics routine at school. At the end of the day, the family reassembles to share a meal in quiet companionship. It’s a single day of perfect domestic bliss that’s shattered the next morning when Rory breaks the news about his impending plans.
At the family’s rented English manor, there’s a similar shot of them having dinner together, but this time the camera is at a distance, the shot capturing the vast emptiness of their surroundings. When the characters run through the mansion’s corridors or wander in the field outside later in the film, the framing makes them seem small, diminished, as though they’re shrinking under the weight of the compromises they’ve made. Scenes are set in dim lighting with the shadows threatening to engulf them. The Nest adopts the mood and atmosphere of a horror movie but eventually illustrates that the selfish pursuit of wealth is more ruinous to a family than any supernatural force. The mansion itself might be frightening, but the man inhabiting it is the only architect of his family’s decline.
Jude Law imbues the smarmy Rory with a salesman showmanship that bleeds into his home life. Over the course of the film, it becomes apparent that not a single act of kindness he extends his wife is ever truly altruistic, each followed by a demand for something in return. A stable that he promises to build for her remains half-finished, a metaphor for the crumbling edifice of their relationship. Carrie Coon deftly strikes a balancing act as Allison, a woman deeply in love with her husband, but also painfully aware of his shortcomings. The film’s 1980s setting, with its underlying misogyny, delivers both, repeated reminders that she must be subservient to her husband, and cruel taunts when she does just that. The sharp writing captures them slipping into a relationship of strangers while simultaneously undercutting and hurting each other in the way that only people who know their partners intimately can.
A nest implies a refuge or place of comfort but the manor provides neither. At various points, it’s an illusion that the family can’t hope to hold on to for much longer, a mausoleum for their dreams, a prison they can’t escape. If it is a nest, the film’s high-tension atmosphere suggests that it’s a flimsily-constructed one perched precariously high, the family members within always one gust away from losing it all.