Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Sean Durkin
Stars: Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Oona Roche, Charlie Shotwell, Michael Culkin, Adeel Akhtar, Wendy Crewson.
The sophomore feature from writer/director Sean Durkin is a moody character piece about toxic obsession and a disturbing study of a dysfunctional marriage and a family falling apart. There are also some intensely personal elements to the drama as Durkin has drawn upon his own past to shape the film and its psychological insights.
The film opens in America in the mid-80s, the Reagan era of materialism and deregulation. Rory O’Hara (Jude Law) is an expat British stockbroker, a real go-getter full of chutzpah who wants more than his successful life in New York. He is married to Allison (Carrie Coon, from the tv series Fargo, etc), a horse trainer, and has two children – the rebellious Samantha (Oona Roche) and the introspective Benjamin (Charlie Shotwell). But then he decides to uproot the family and return to London where he has a job with his old firm under his former boss Arthur Davis (Michael Culkin). Obsessed with status he rents a large centuries old mansion outside Surrey which comes complete with a stable for Allison’s horse, and enrols the children in exclusive private schools.
The creaky and musty old house itself, with its wooden panelling, secret passages and empty rooms, becomes a character in the unfolding drama. The house is a symbol of his affluence and achievement, but it also becomes something of a nightmare for Rory and his family. It seems to somehow consume them, leading Allison to a slow mental breakdown, and his children become increasingly alienated. The delusional Rory has built a house of cards that is about to come crashing down around him. Allison grows bitter, and there is one scene in which she and Rory are at a dinner in a posh restaurant with a work colleague and a couple of potential investors and she begins to publicly call him out for his pretentious airs and his bullshit.
The Nest is Durkin’s first feature since 2011’s psychological thriller Martha Macy May Marlene and, as with his debut, he brings an intense sense of dread and foreboding to proceedings. His pacing is deliberately slow and restrained, and he gives the material a claustrophobic and oppressive feel. The film feels like it is building up to a climactic confrontation, but it ends without a real catharsis or resolution.
The moody cinematography from Matyas Erdely (the searing Holocaust drama Son Of Saul, etc) and the gloomy lighting enhances this grim atmosphere. Erdely has shot scenes through windows and works in close up quite often, which gives the material an almost voyeuristic quality. The production design from James Price is also impressive. The 80s setting will recall films like Wall Street and its ethos of greed is good.
Durkin elicits strong performances from his two leads, which are already attracting awards attention. Law gives an intense performance as the charming but deeply flawed Rory, a selfish and self-obsessed narcissist driven by ambition and dreams and unaware of the impact it has on his family. The longer the film goes on the more unlikeable he becomes. Coon brings a fragility and vulnerability to her performance especially as Allison grows more insecure and anxious and suspicious of Rory.