The Nest: Dissolution Meets Dread
“Nobody is the same in this house.”
Sean Durkin’s delightfully eerie The Nest opens on a seemingly serene moment: Rory (Jude Law) hesitates before making a phone call to an old acquaintance, standing in solitude at the window of the gorgeous New York home he shares with his family. Cinematographer Mátyás Erdély’s camera suddenly drifts outside, Rory’s accented small talk turns to pantomime behind the glass, and the opening notes of a lightly haunting score from Richard Reed Parry fill the air. As Rory moves his wife, Allison (Carrie Coon) and children across the pond to his ancestral England, it will be awhile before we learn of the subtly sinister nature of this call, but the magic of The Nest is that we’ll feel this existential dread even when we don’t quite know what’s causing it.
Rory settles his family into an English mansion that’s all shadowy corners and creaking doors, but what’s hidden in this family has little to do with a haunted house. Durkin uses the trademark austerity and repression of Thatcher’s England to squeeze his characters until they pop, and more precisely, until their relationships buckle under the strain. The writer-director shows immense insight into what makes humans tick, and he relies on small, repeated moments to undermine the anchors that stabilize Rory and Allison.
In what will hopefully be a breakout film performance akin to her turn in TV’s The Leftovers, Coon carries the weight of her crumbling world in every cigarette she sucks on, every stubborn act of marital petulance. Law turns in a mostly understated performance, a simmering rise and fall, culminating in a powerfully self-aware reflection that comes in a lonely, drunken cab ride home - one which most viewers will relate to. Durkin’s sympathy glides slowly toward Allison throughout the film’s runtime, but its disdain for Rory is not for the man he is, but rather the man he has become, the one he so badly thinks he needs to be.
Durkin’s eye for small details will give audiences moments to revel in even as tension builds. He makes allowances for small moments of nostalgia, like when Allison’s daughter Sam rustles impatiently by her radio, lunging for the record button on the nearby tape player when her favorite song finally comes on. And he gets at the stuff of domestic discontent with pinpoint accuracy, climaxing in the uniquely perverse delight that comes in the major embarrassment we can force our loved ones to suffer through minor squabbles in the company of friends.
And through all of it, the not-so-haunted house remains - an icon of impending doom, a symbol of immaculately hollow relationships. Erdély consistently shoots interior scenes from afar, each threshold distorting the feigned familial love in the next room. Doors open mysteriously; a family horse gets inexplicably sick; the ground itself seems to shift beneath their feet. But as a brutal long-shot on Allison’s face as she listens to her husband’s colleagues speak at a rigid cocktail party demonstrates, the film isn’t about what lurks in the unknown. No, The Nest cuts so deeply precisely because of the horrors that lay just beneath the surface of those we know best.