Threads of a fraying marriage begin to come undone when a foolishly ambitious man relocates his family from a posh New York neighbourhood to a musty, old English manor in Surrey.
Story: Married couple Rory and Allison, with their children Sam and Ben, try to navigate their changing economic circumstances when Rory displaces them from their home in New York to London
Canadian filmmaker Sean Durkin’s second feature directorial The Nest is a slow-burning thriller that spotlights the vacuousness of unbridled aspirations, rather aspirations that one shouldn’t dare to foster. It talks about a family desperately trying to remain tethered together even as they fight their inner demons.
It seems Durkin almost ironically titled his movie The Nest — at least in the beginning — because it is their house, their supposed sanctuary, that finally corrodes their veneer of normalcy.
Rory O'Hara (Jude Law) and his wife, Allison (Carrie Coon), live in a fancy New York upstate apartment tucked away in lush greenery. The sunlight trickles surreptitiously from the frosted glass windows, lending a peek into the life Rory and Allison have painstakingly built together. But their blissful existence is short-lived, as Rory finds a gig in London that he says would bolster his career and provide for an even cushier life. Allison is exhausted with Rory’s delusional quest for better living; the family, consisting of Rory’s stepdaughter Sam (Oona Roche) and son Ben (Charlie Shotwell) had already moved houses four times in 10 years. Yet, they begrudgingly move to an 18-century English manor, which Rory excitedly tells his kids, was temporarily occupied by Led Zeppelin during the making of an album.
Rory is a frenetic mess. A trader on the verge of bankruptcy, he wakes up early in the morning, dresses up for work, plasters on the synthetic charm by banging the chest of drawers a few times, before driving up to his former office. Law’s depiction may remotely bring to mind Leonardi DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort in The Wolf Of Wall Street. Like Belfort, Rory is also a trader and a wordsmith. He has lived with his delusions for so long that he has, in fact, started to believe that he is only a responsible husband and father.
*Minor spoiler ahead* In a scene in The Nest, a cab driver asks him whether he is indeed a good father. Rory scoffs under his breath in disbelief and replies that he ensures his children are well fed and well-kept. The cab driver retorts, declaring it is the bare minimum any father should be doing. But when asked what exactly it is that he desires, Rory wonders if his goal was ever anything else than to make money. *Spoiler ends*
It’s a difficult role. Rory isn’t exactly likeable. He is ruefully self-absorbed, spends most time outside of home, cajoling either investors or his pragmatic prick of a boss. But he is equally vulnerable, a broken shell of a man who has struggled too hard in his childhood to now eschew the promise of wealth. Jude Law imbues Rory with fragility and egotism, never letting the audience disconnect with the character, even when he tries so hard to maintain the facade of sophistication, serving up one lie after another to possible financiers.
Allison’s journey is far more internal. She is a lonely, distrusting wife who perseveres in hopes of preserving her family. She lends her husband money, but hides its whereabouts from him, indicating Rory may have stolen money from his wife many times before, and blithely lied about the arrival of his next cheque.
We are told Allison has led a life of penury after her first husband, and that only after her second marriage with Rory has she had the opportunity to foster her equestrian hobbies. Yet, she barely manages to stay afloat. She feels increasingly disconnected from her children, who themselves are overwhelmed by the enormity of the decaying mansion and their inability to find a footing in an alien land.
With parents invariably attending social dos, the children grow up in accidental neglect. The family routinely hug each other, but the simmering discord threatens to burst forth until one day it does, when Allison loses her pet horse Richmond to an unidentified ailment. She indirectly blames her husband for Richmond’s death — She believes the horse may have suffered internal injuries while being shipped to another continent, or perhaps it was the shed, discarded as half-constructed, due to her husband’s inability to clear dues with carpenters.
Durkin frequently opts for a show-not-tell approach. The ostensible nest is captured with long, still shots, as muffled voices are heard in the background. Horror aficionados know such houses, with secret doors, winding stairs and dark corridors all enveloped in crimson mahogany are almost always a sign of trouble. Following a bed-wetting episode, Ben confesses to Sam “this house scares me.” It’s an unabashedly atmospheric film with an oppressive dankness surrounding it. It’s deliberately pensive and unbearably overwhelming for most of its 105-minute runtime, offering little solace to its characters or the viewers.
Which is why The Nest’s ending feels remotely hopeful. Reconciliation isn’t exactly what Durkin is interested in. His film is the segue into the human mind and the sacrifices it makes to accommodate their loved ones. It’s all que sera sera in this universe, where characters are propelled to the edge of insanity only to let them decide their fate. The Nest isn’t hell-bent on providing answers. It scours to reveal festering wounds and hopes the inhabitants of this nest find a way to improve their lives on their own terms.
Verdict: The Nest grows on you. It sucks you deep into the abyss of familial complexities where to unquestioningly submit to the characters’ decisions. Think of it as a Marriage Story, sans the verbosity.