A move across the ocean uncovers dysfunction in a marriage in “The Nest,” writer and director Sean Durkin’s first feature film since his 2011 film festival darling “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” Drawing on his own experiences growing up in both England and America, Durkin explores changes in relationships that occur with a change in location in this eerie drama that’s led by some career-best performances from Jude Law and Carrie Coon.
Set in the 1980s, “The Nest” follows the O’Hara family. Rory (Law) is an ambitious broker trying to climb the corporate ladder. His wife Allison (Coon) works with horses and gives riding lessons. Together they have a son, Benjamin (Charlie Shotwell) and Allison has an older daughter, Samantha (Oone Roche) from a previous relationship. When Rory sense an opportunity back in his native England, he moves his family from suburban America to a remote estate in Surrey, as he takes a position at his former firm in London. The kids have difficulty adjusting; Benjamin is bullied at his new school, and Samantha becomes increasingly combative in her relationship with her mother.
But the bulk of the focus is on Rory and Allison and how their new environment changes their relationship. When they are in America, we see that Allison holds a lot of financial responsibility in the family. She and Rory are, at the very least, on equal footing. But when they are in England, Rory starts chasing the life he always wanted but never had: wealth, social status, power, good schools for his children, nice cars, nice homes, nice meals in nice restaurants—and with all that, a nice wife who will play the game along with him, accompanying him to fancy parties. But it is obvious that that is not the sort of life that Allison wants to lead; she’s practical, likes to work and to get her hands dirty, sometimes literally. We soon find out that Rory is actually quite broke, that he is relying almost entirely on a big deal to go through at work to make him rich, and that for all his seeming to throw money at nice things and for all his boasting about his lifestyle, it’s all just an illusion. Even when it comes to his family, he appears more preoccupied with the material and using them to further sustain his illusion of wealth, while we see that Allison genuinely cares about the welfare of her children.
That’s not to say that Rory is completely heartless. These characters are incredibly complex, and Law and Coon both get that across in their performances. They play Rory and Allison as characters who legitimately do love each other, but social and economic obstacles keep getting in their way. We also get the sense from Durkin’s screenplay that they both come from troubled backgrounds: Rory alludes to the hard life Allison was living with Samantha when he first met her, and Law has a wonderful scene opposite Anne Reid when Rory desperately tries and fails to reconcile with his estranged mom. Law and Coon both perfectly convey the desperation of their situation as events continue to unravel.
Durkin gives “The Nest” a sinister tone (thanks in part to the score by Richard Reed Parry and the innate creepiness of the O’Hara’s isolated mansion) that makes it almost constantly feel like it is on the precipice of turning into a horror movie, although it never does. Actually, the film feels like it is constantly on the precipice of some huge occurrence, but it never takes the leap. Durkin instead chooses to let the characters stew in their emotions without resulting in any massive outpouring of anger or sadness, no big fight or earth-shattering revelation. This is nice in that it is an unexpected direction for the story, but also frustrating because it never feels like the movie releases any of that pent up anger and frustration that is bubbling just under the surface for most of the film. It may not be very satisfying, but it does contribute to the cyclical nature of the story and of Rory and Allison’s relationship. At the start of the film, Allison tells Rory as he pitches her his idea of moving to England that this will be their fourth move in ten years. As the film concludes, Rory is again trying to sell Allison on a new idea—another move, this time to an apartment in London, so they’ll be living in a more manageable space and he’ll be closer to work, he’s got some big things on the horizon. This has happened before, and it will happen again.
“The Nest” will debut in select theaters on September 18 and on demand on November 17. Runtime: 107 minutes. Rated R. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Media review screener courtesy IFC Films.