Directed By Sean Durkin
Starring – Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Oona Roche
The Plot – Life for an entrepreneur (Law) and his American family begins to take a twisted turn after moving into an English country manor.
Rated R for adult language throughout, some sexuality, nudity and teen partying
– Durkin’s drive. After the success of 2011’s “Martha Marcy May Marlene”, Sean Durkin quickly became known as a name to watch in drama, for the measure of humanity and psychology that he instills within his characters and conflicts, and “The Nest” is certainly no different in this regard. Durkin not only zeroes in on the tension that develops meticulously within every character dynamic of this family, but also articulates the sense of disconnect, both in ideals and lifestyles, that stems from an American family moving across the world to England, and sacrificing everything about their peaceful existence for the allure of endless fortunes. Above all else, however, it’s the way Durkin values each of his parental units by taking time to flesh out all of their hopes and dreams, and then playing those dreams against them for the sake of vulnerability with people who appear to have so much. It gives the screenplay a lot of depth and concentration for a film that feels like anything other than a movie, and more a slice of life, and stirs drama in less conventional ways than we’re typically used to from mainstream cinema.
– Meaningful subtleties. Upon watching the trailer for the movie, the grainy textures of the stunning cinematography from Matyas Erdely not only captured my attention faithfully, but also visually alluded to the idea that the world within the film takes place during a time so far from our contemporary timeframe, and I was right. It turns out “The Nest” takes place somewhere in the 80’s, but there’s no distinct designation in text or in the dialogue between the characters, which I appreciated for not feeling like a nagging distraction throughout the film. It’s only confirmed in the nuance’d details, like the wardrobe or the new wave dominated musical score, which I will detail a little later, and establishes a cross-generational link to this age based only on the themes that still persist in broken homes to this day.
– Against type. Part of what makes this film stand out for me is the brisk breeze of some psychological horror elements within its screenplay that keeps uncertainty along the way for what this chameleon of a film will eventually turn out to be. Summarizing without spoiling, the film is essentially a character study seen through the lens of a ghost story framing device that doubles down on the confines of isolation. The ghost in question could be considered the house itself, or even the family, for how each of them become strangers to who they once were, as uttered by Coon’s character after a near psychotic breakdown. But this fog of uncertainty plagues each of them in ways that makes this cold, damp essential setting feel like a living, breathing entity that targets each of their vulnerabilities, and adds a varying dimension to the movie’s creativity that makes this one of the more difficult films to classify in 2020.
– Ominous atmosphere. While on the subject of that thick atmospheric setting, Durkin and crew conjure up a colorless environment that goes a long way in channeling this family’s disconnect. Aside from the immense size of this setting preserving a lunacy of this family living above their means, the decor inside barely contains any furniture or transformative qualities once they move in, to truly make this house feel like an actual home. The bland color scheme resonates synonymously with the grainy textures of the aforementioned cinematography, and the collection of wide angle photography vividly illustrates the growing distance between each of them that unpleasantly intervenes between each momentary triumph. To channel an internal feeling with external results is a difficult task that doesn’t always coherently translate from the pages it spun from, but the production is tight in conveying this cautionary tale of sorts that documents what came of the family who got everything they wanted, and immerses in their decaying sentiment with a cold enveloping that nearly gives us frostbite from their growing disdain.
– Musical encompassing. Both the invigorating musical score from Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, and the collection of new wave synth that audibly adorns the movie’s soundtrack each add a varying degree of atmospheric tension and whimsical nostalgia to the film’s surprisingly abundant level of musical depth, but it’s the way that the latter is used that I truly appreciated. Instead of using hits like “These Dreams” by Heart, or “Hold Me Now” by Thompson Twins in transitional form from one scene to the next, with no influence to what is taking shape in frame, the film incorporates them to play on a radio, or during a party, when each earns merit with the inclusion ahead of convenience. The two songs I previously mentioned are not only two of my favorites from what some refer to as the single greatest decade of music, but there’s also a couple of other tracks that surprise the longer the film persists, and cements this as a possible threat as one of the best soundtrack’s of 2020. A feat I wasn’t expecting in a slowburn family psychological drama.
– Technical mastery. There’s much to be appreciated about the film’s technical merits, which influence with artistic integrity when the script needs them to. The lighting in each frame simultaneously feeds into the weathered presentation, as well as metaphorically illustrates the uncertainty that stems with such greedy intentions. The editing is patient and well-reserved, resulting in several impressive long take shots that not only feed into the prestige of the performance from Law and Coon, but also wears heavily on the unnerving accessibility that often feels like we’ve stumbled onto an argument that we as an audience shouldn’t have, and practically beg for a cut for a moment of relief. Finally, the overall shot compositions are every bit challenging as they are meaningful in their intended repetition. This is meant to show the mundane redundancy of life, and all of its humbling, weathering consistency, but beyond that contrast the differences and behaviors from day to day, and give us a finer grasp on the conflicts manufacturing internally.
– Dynamic duo. If you only see this movie for one aspect, make sure it’s definitely the wonderful work of Law and Coon, who each transform before our eyes with a thunderous registry that plays into the impeccable chemistry between them. Law is having the time of his life as a conniving, deceitful broker, whose selfishness serves as a black hole that engulfs everyone and everything surrounding him. Law cements it with an irresistible charm and illogical ambition that not only makes him the antagonist of sorts for the film, but also in a rare polarization for a man with a desire to give his family the best of everything, yet portrayed as a hopeless dreamer. Law is given top billing, but it’s actually Carrie Coon who steals the show as a wife losing her own dreams one seam at a time between this life-defining opportunity. Coon juggles an internal juxtaposition that often emotionally gets the better of her, and brings forth a fearless demeanor and stern delivery that continuously bares the weight of the many bad decisions she’s been forced to endure in this household by her spouse. It’s her best performance in a career of movie-stealing ones, and cements Coon’s status as a leading lady you simply can’t take your eyes off of.
– Uneven pacing. What’s strange about this movie is the conflicting nature of its storytelling, which sifts through as a slowburn drama, yet never feels like it has enough time in the exposition of its most valued moments. Case and point at the evolution of this family, which sometimes feels pushed in fast-forward, instead of slowly deteriorating one scene at a time. Aside from this transformation feeling like it skipped steps 2-4 on the way to a five point plan of circumstantial evidence, the dramatic elements of the film itself feel undercooked to the intended value they’re hoping to reach, mainly because the first act underscores them during the times when they are considered middle class. Those moments are pivotal to the other acts, because only when you fully understand the conditions that they’ve come from then you can comprehend the magnitude of their tragedies. Characters often make illogical moves at a time when none of it feels truly earned, and even with such evidently bad people at the helm, there isn’t a single shred of empathy between them that I was willing to donate.
– Absentee children. A personal preference for me for the film would’ve involved the two youngest members of the family being documented more during the film’s first half, where we truly start to know and engage with these characters before the transformations and riches come into play. Why this is important is obvious; they’re the two biggest characters besides our two leads, but even beyond that, it’s the abundance that the movie’s second half calls on them, and we truly feel like we never learn how they are taking any of this ensuing drama, with the exception of momentary attitude shifts at the dinner table. It would’ve been highly beneficial to experience their fear at the uncertainty, as well as the conflicting nature of dealing with the changes and unraveling of the two most important people in your lives. Instead, they are barely supporting characters, and ones who never establish an identity within the film other than the stereotypical terms used to label troubled teenagers or curious children.
– Unsatisfying climax. Considering the entirety of the film moves in one cohesive motion towards this inevitable conflict between husband and wife, the third act pay-off with regards to this and underdeveloped character arc’s were truly problematic in the closing moments of this film. Much of the third act feels rushed and inconsistent with the slowburn nature that we’ve been consistently following during the film’s first hour, and even more than that is the closing moments, which end with a whimper instead of the bang that we’ve been promised. The problem here is the resolution, and where it leaves Jude Law’s character in particular. He does have a moment of clarity, but it’s nothing that truly feels educational for his character, nor does it feel anything other than an inconvenience to the narrative that he has been riding throughout. A bigger epiphany for the character, or a devastating blow could’ve added emphasis to the closing lesson. Instead, we get a conclusion that is as safe as it is frustrating.
My Grade: 7/10 or C+