Synopsis – Life for an entrepreneur and his American family begins to take a twisted turn after moving into an English country manor.
My Take – Honestly, when I decided to get into this film, I had no recollection of the name of Sean Durkin. After all it has been 9 years since he made something of a splash in the indie scene with feature directorial debut, Martha Marcy May Marlene, a slightly overrated psychological drama, and then disappeared from the scene by mostly sticking to producing efforts and helming music videos.
Now marking his return, at first glance, his sophomore effort, with its creepy mansion, filled with centuries-old creaking wood floors, dark hallways, and secret doors, seemed like an unsettling new horror set at the English countryside. But instead, like his first film, is actually a family drama that just uses horror film techniques to keeps the audience off-balance and unnerved throughout, while exploring intimately what happens when a seemingly happy marriage is stripped to its foundations and forced to face the uncomfortable truths it’s built upon. Most importantly, how money troubles and mistrust can get into the cracks like mold, impossible to dig out.
While the film’s features textured storytelling and an open-ended finale will definitely lead to a divisive audience reaction, but in order to make us empathize with the fragile and jangled nerves of his protagonists, director Durkin has expertly recruited two strong leads in the form of Carrie Coon and Jude Law, who unsurprisingly soar to fantastic performances, giving much life to the mostly slow paced film.
Set in the 1980s, the story follows Rory O’Hara (Jude Law) and Allison O’Hara (Carrie Coon), an affectionate but troubled couple who seem to be living the upwardly mobile American dream, with their children, Samantha (Oona Roche) and Benjamin (Charlie Shotwell). However, Rory is not happy with their current condition and truly believes that his financial prospects as a commodities broker have dried up, and is convinced that he wants to return to England, where he plans to reunite
with his former firm, and employer, Arthur Davis (Michael Culkin). While Allison is reluctant and skeptical at first, after all this is their fourth move in 10 years, and will involve scrapping her horse trainer job, and packing her prize thoroughbred stallion, across an entire ocean, she agrees. But the moment they move into an ancient and sprawling country mansion, it quickly becomes clear that they can’t afford it.
But Rory is of another mind as he spends lavishly, against the promise of a big windfall, buying fur coats, building a horse stable for Allison and enrolling his kids in expensive private schools. However what they all don’t realize is that the move has effected each member of the family increasingly, pushing them all into reacting differently in stressful situations individually.
Right from the first scene, you will know that director Sean Durkin‘s film is going to be slow burn that will dance to its own beat. With small details that chip away at Rory and Allison’s relationship being revealed slowly as the rot sets in. It’s a study of greed and privilege as a cancer that clouds Rory’s ability to truly define what is important in his life. And it proceeds in a succession of rich scenes: an awkward visit to Rory’s semi-estranged mother (Anne Reid), a gruesome episode with a dead horse, a heartbroken taxi ride, and a dinner party that careens completely off the rails when Allison publicly runs out of patience with her husband.
Through all of this, we can see the slow death of Allison’s feelings for her husband passing wordlessly across her face. Especially in the terrific little restaurant scene where Allison does the ordering for the couple, a defiant, angrily extravagant order.
True, we’ve seen this kind of marital dismantling before, but director Durkin remains surprising, especially with the absence of the usual clichés and his creation of a trenchant loser in Rory, the quintessential charlatan who is all fake-it-till-you-make-it.
Frankly, it’s both, and occasionally it’s sympathetic. As money means status and power, two things Rory desires very much for no other reason than to possess them, but it’s also a balm for old wounds. Rory didn’t grow up well off. His acquisitive nature derives from a need to escape his upbringing. But director Durkin understands money as a living organism capable of sustaining a man and betraying him at the same time. What Rory learns from his time in America is that money is everything. What he doesn’t learn is that money’s a fickle creature and while anyone can make it, keeping it is the harder part.
Thankfully the film avoids the usual tagline by pronouncing that money can’t buy happiness, but instead invites more misery. As seen by how Benjamin struggles to adjust to his new school, Sam turns into an emotional terrorist and starts hanging out with the Wrong Crowd and nothing, no matter how hard she tries, works in Alison’s favor, even the lavish dinners Rory whisks her off to serve as arm candy while he bullshits about the theater in front of his colleagues.
Yes, running for just 107 minutes, the film is not long, but it is leisurely paced, sometimes frustratingly so as director Durkin takes his time, to unpack everything, which to an extend ends up hampering the final experience. Also I’m not quite if I was convinced with direction the character development takes. In the sense, despite Rory being at his most charismatic, right from the start we are well aware that he will hit rock bottom, leaving his actions devoid of much suspense.
However, in comparison, Allison is the most attractive package, as her character is much more intriguing to watch as the ill-used wife pushing back against societal expectations of submissiveness, who at any time is going to the lose patience with the blatant rubbish he’s shoveling.
Nevertheless, Jude Law is perfectly cast as he brings his natural film star charisma and charm shines throughout. As great as Law is in the film, and he is great, but, Carrie Coon pretty much steals every scene she’s in. In scenes of extreme tension where Coon is required to yell until her throat gives out, you do not just hear the anger in her voice. You hear her sadness, her desire, and the most damning of all, her disappointment.
Oona Roche and Charlie Shotwell are also appealingly authentic as children trapped in a situation they can’t control. While in other roles, Adeel Akhtar, Anne Reid, and Michael Culkin are also excellent. On the whole, ‘The Nest’ is an uncomfortable and harrowing journey containing some of the finest performances you’ll see all year.
Directed – Sean Durkin
Rated – R
Run Time – 107 minutes