Written and directed by Sean Durkin, “The Nest” opens by offering a typical day in the life of one family in the 1980s. We get the husband, Rory (Jude Law), on an early morning phone call and then waking his wife, Allison (Carrie Coon). We see the kids, Samantha (Oona Roche) and Ben (Charlie Shotwell). There is work and school and friends and activities. Life and happiness. But, there is also something disturbing underneath it all, an ominous sense of foreboding. We are being shown a “typical” good day because there is a bad one on the horizon.
It is the setup for a horror movie and while some would call the film a drama—in fact, it is undoubtedly categorized as such—that is not entirely accurate. “The Nest” is not a horror movie where some crazed killer is on the loose or aliens invade or a demonic doll tortures everyone, but it is a horror movie. It is the story of one family and the lie that the husband/father (step-father to Samantha) has been telling them (and anyone who will listen) and we watch as it all comes crumbling down, threatening to destroy everything. And that is terrifying.
Rory, you see, is a liar. He is the sort of man who would say that he’s in “business” or “finance.” He is a smooth talker and a dreamer and a complete and utter fraud. People, including Allison, have a general sense of the truth hiding underneath, but he’s handsome enough and charismatic enough that he gets away with it. Until he doesn’t, until the lies crumble under their own weight and the truth starts to peek through the cracks.
The family has moved multiple times within the United States in the last decade and now Rory wants to return to his native England and the firm he used to work for. He promises Allison that this time it is it, this time they will have the sort of wealth of which most can only dream. And, Allison, despite her apprehensive attitude, despite her sense of unease, follows Rory one more time.
There is a large estate in Surrey, perhaps somewhat dilapidated, but large enough that Allison, who works with horses, can have her own stable and business on the property. There is a good school for Ben to attend. There is, perhaps, less for Samantha, but maybe enough.
And so “The Nest” goes. Establishing and establishing and establishing, but always building that sense of impending doom. Things aren’t so good for Rory with his once-and-future-boss, Arthur (Michael Culkin) and Rory may have an old friend at the firm, Steve (Adeel Akhtar), but they clearly have very different ideas about dealmaking and business. The kids are having trouble in school. Allison’s new horse is upset and the stable isn’t getting built as it should.
Problem adds to problem adds to problem.
There are fights. There is a need for more money. There is disquiet and more lies and unhappiness. And then, just as with so many horror movies, there is the fateful night. The night the film has been building to. The last night.
The biggest issue with “The Nest” is not the film, but with those of us who watch it. We are bad viewers, bad consumers of media. We are beholden to our expectations, expectations about when things have to happen, where the story has to go, where it has to get bigger and get louder and get to a point. Our striving to see those moments, to see our expectations fulfilled, in the case of “The Nest,” leaves us empty.
This film isn’t about that. We all know from the first few minutes that Rory is a fraud and that Allison is deeply unhappy. The movie isn’t about us seeing them and finally, just before the credits roll, understanding them. It is about them learning to see themselves through this night of trauma and having to come to a decision about whether they’re going to continue down the same path they’ve been on. We get to watch the characters come to this realization. We get to see Coon and Law, both tremendous actors, deliver these characters who are hanging by a thread and that is wonderful.
What we do not get is a closing of all the threads. That decision, leaving some things hanging, is a conscious one on the part of Durkin, but maybe not a satisfying one for us. But, again, this is not a movie which always meets our expectations and the ways in which the film avoids them lends more foreboding to the affair, heightening the horror attributes.
Beyond the moodiness and death and creepy atmosphere and gaining of self-knowledge, “The Nest” is a film about destruction. It is a movie about life falling down around one’s ears and doing so in the quietest, simplest, most down-to-earth, ways possible. There may be no blood spattered on the walls, there may be a distinct lack of maniacal laughter, but those are just some aspects of horror. The movie does not fit squarely into the genre, no, but it only takes a slightly expansive view of the definition to encompass Durkin’s work. After all, what could be scarier than the end of all we hold dear?
photo credit: IFC Films