Review: THE NEST, Hell Really Is Other Married People
Almost a decade ago, writer-director Sean Durkin’s feature-length debut, Martha Marcy May Marlene — an intense, non-linear psychological thriller — immediately moved him to the front ranks of promising first-time filmmakers. It also introduced Elisabeth Olsen to moviegoers. In the interim, however, while Olsen has appeared in more than a dozen films, garnering critical acclaim and commercial success (especially with the ongoing Avengers franchise), Durkin has slipped back into near-anonymity. He directed a 2013 BBC miniseries, Southcliffe, and otherwise devoted his energy to producing or executive producing, and slowly but surely prepping his second, much-anticipated film, The Nest. A brilliantly realized horror film (mostly) in name only, it focuses on a Brit-American blended family fracturing and disintegrating under the social, economic, and cultural pressures of the Reagan (and Thatcher) Era.
The Nest centers on Rory O'Hara (Jude Law), a high-living British ex-pat living in ‘80s suburban America, Allison O'Hara (Carrie Coon), his wife, Samantha (Oona Roche), Allison’s teen daughter from an earlier marriage, and Ben (Charlie Shotwell), Rory and Allison’s preteen son. Despite a relationship strained by Rory’s desperate, grasping for financial and social status, Allison begrudgingly agrees to Rory’s suggestion to relocate the entire family to England where Rory, something of a prodigal son to the elderly head of a mid-level brokerage, has an open offer to return and resume a semi-successful career. It’s the chance, one among many for Rory apparently, to restart his professional life and prove himself worthy of his own outsized expectations.
Rory’s precipitous decision creates a circle of resentment that quickly encompasses Allison and her children, but Allison, constrained by old-school gender norms (Rory makes life decisions, Allison does her part to realize them) goes along to get along. Too young to leave, but old enough to know her own mind, Samantha begins rebelling within minutes of joining Rory, Allison, and the introspective Ben, at the vast, labyrinthine, centuries-old manor Rory has rented for the family in Surrey, England. For Rory, the comforting fictions and comforting lies he tells himself and by extension, his family, matter as much — if not more than — the uncomfortable reality of a middling, unsatisfying career he faces when he returns to the brokerage he left more than a decade earlier.
While Samantha rebels as most teens would, hanging out with a boisterous crowd, throwing makeshift parties at the mansion when Allison and Rory are away, and ignoring the needy, perpetually lost Ben, Allison begins to mount a quiet rebellion of her own, partly against Rory and his selfish, egotistical behavior, but also against what Rory represents, a flawed, incomplete masculinity driven by social, economic, and cultural signifiers (wealth, social status) and not the reciprocity, empathy, or compassion that would make Allison and Rory equal partners in their marriage. Both Rory and Allison are trapped, though in different and often conflicting ways, by gender and social norms that all but suffocate their individual personalities and personal desires.
It might be something of a cliche, but to call the Surrey manor the fifth character in The Nest isn’t too far off the mark. With its vast spaces defined by unequal amounts of light and shadow, empty or semi-empty rooms, and secret passages, the mansion could stand-in for any number of Gothic-themed, supernatural horror films, though here it functions primarily as a towering symbol of Rory’s hubris, a hubris that won’t be so rewarded as punished. Though Durkin, a filmmaker highly attuned to the conventions and tropes of domestic dramas and supernatural horror, sly sets up audience expectations, up to and including confrontations that don’t happen or dangers that once teased, fail to materialize, creating slowly unfolding tension and anticipatory dread leading to a series of interrelated events spread across an evening morning and early morning that threatens to permanently fracture the family.
Anchored by top-flight performances from Law, delivering a masterclass in smug, self-satisfied egocentrism, and Coon, revelatory as a conflicted woman toggling between resignation and rage, The Nest offers patient, observant moviegoers a rarity in contemporary filmmaking: An adult-focused, multi-layered, character-centered family drama where the visual pyrotechnics don’t require big budgets or visual effects, just Durkin’s camera lingering on the faces and body language of the central cast.
The Nest can be rented or purchased via the usual VOD platforms.
Mel Valentin contributed to this story.
- Sean Durkin
- Sean Durkin
- Jude Law
- Carrie Coon
- Oona Roche
- Charlie Shotwell