Trickle Down Dread: The Nest (2020)-Reviewed

 (Image Courtesy of BBC Films)

Set against the backdrop of Reagan's America and Thatcher's England where wealth, prosperity and appearances were everything, Sean Durkin's The Nest follows the disintegration of one family as the patriarch upends their lives in an attempt to seize all that and more.

Jude Law plays Rory O'hara, a husband and father living comfortably in New York. His wife, Allison (Carrie Coon) keeps and trains horses and their children (Oona Roche and Charlie Shotwell) are typical, seemingly happy kids. By any measure this is a prosperous family in a time when something like this was standard and attainable for most (i.e. white) families. The looming specter of obscene wealth, however, hangs over this family like a thick fog, beckoning Rory with its allure. On a whim, sick of "slumming it", Rory forces his entire family to pick up and move to a monstrous mansion in the London countryside. Taking a job at his old trading firm, Rory becomes hellbent on keeping up appearances and securing wealth and in the process, threatens to destroy everything he holds dear.

Immediately striking is Durkin's eye for dread. He frames, shoots and paces The Nest like a horror film. The camera (shot by Màtyàs Erdély) slowly, almost agonizingly, pushes in on moments and pulls out on others creating a creeping sense of terror. Otherwise mundane moments like Rory on the phone or Allison pacing through the house become capsules of edge-of-your seat film watching. 

Durkin has a keen distaste for wealth and its evident from the minute the family arrives at their new mansion. In any other film, the mansion would be shot in gorgeous wides showing off its sheer scale and impressiveness. Here though, it's ominously tight. It doesn't feel impressive at all, rather oppressive. It's almost hilariously huge, striking in contrast to the house and life they just left. It's dark, foreboding and filled with unappealing browns and grays. Durkin treats the house like a maze, one that the family never conquers. Allison, as her marriage falls apart, finds herself increasingly manic as she wanders through the house closing doors she thought she closed minutes ago. It's a haunted house movie, akin to The Shining where a family finds itself besieged by a father's ambitions and failings. In The Shining ghosts of Jack Torrance and the Overlook's past manifest to destroy the family, here it's the ghosts of Rory's future. Or the future that he thinks he deserves. The Mansion is where everything goes to die: the family, love, dreams, even horses. Nothing is safe here and it's remarkable how something so majestic can be rendered so ugly. 

It's a stark contrast to the house they left in New York. In that house, there was a warmth and a sense of family. Rory was outside in their manageable yard playing soccer with his son. The neighbor's kid was a frequent guest, on a first name basis with Allison. Jeans and t-shirts were the norm. This house feels like a home and it's an embrace that you frequently yearn for while watching the kids listen from hollow rooms as their parents argue in the mansion. You crave its tight quarters and casualness as fur coats, suits and uniforms become standard wear around the house. Instead of a small, but cozy backyard, there's a full on soccer pitch outside. Neighbors are now miles away, strangers in every sense of the word. It's all maddeningly too much.

(Image Courtesy of BBC Films)

The false hope of Trickle Down Economics is laid distressingly to rest as Rory's life falls into ruin. He's yearning for a life of exorbitant wealth and from the outside looking in, he has it. We often see the family shot through windows. When they arrive at the mansion, they take a family photo in front of it but Durkin has it shot through the windshield of the car. Our view of their newfound success is but a glimpse, a deceptive appearance. These moments, through windows, provide us with the opportunity to view the family as an outsider would. In between the screaming matches between the husband and wife or the children's increasing alienation, these windows are the life Rory projects to his peers. Happy in love with a gorgeous American blonde and two thriving children. It's a brilliant juxtaposition that feels hollower the longer the film goes along. 

Law and Coon are incredible in their own separate ways. Not content with letting her husband's laughable lies at fancy dinners go unnoticed, Allison is always quick to pounce on him at a moment's notice. Her character is one that's been done before, a woman at the end of her marital rope spiraling into acting out, but Coon plays her with such a quiet resolve that you'd almost miss the spiral if you weren't looking. The few scenes of outward anger and sadness are never the big, showy moments you'd expect. From Coon they feel achingly natural. Even more impressive is Coon's ability to take upsetting moments of bullshit from Rory and turn them on their head into something deliciously funny. The film is full of dread but it's also frequently funny often thanks to how Coon plays the scene. As her husband puts on a performance in front of coworkers, the camera will focus right on her expressive face and it's a delight. Eye rolling and scoffing as he goes, she's unbelievable. 

Law, on the other hand is remarkable in giving a performance within a performance. It's a tricky thing to pull off but the brilliance here is that he's not selling it well. He thinks he is but it's clear within five minutes of meeting Rory that he's full of shit. It's a heartbreaking thing to watch, in a way, this man is putting his entire life on the line because he thinks he's a natural at the lavish lifestyle but he's nothing but a sad, hollow fraud who's willing to destroy his family if it means a condo in Portugal. It's hard to have sympathy for a man like this. However, the weathered lines of Law's face reveal a scared man who knows he's in way too deep but has to keep piling on lines of bullshit because to stop now would probably be even worse. Like Coon, however, Law knows that underneath the dread, there's a comic silliness to all of this. He's just a weak man in a nice suit playing dress up and as said bullshit piles up, you can't help but laugh at how transparent he is.

The quiet MVPs of The Nest are Roche and Shotwell. Roche as Sam is pretty incredible in how nuanced she is playing a teen clearly understanding that her parents are falling apart. She's scared but frequently irritated and it's utterly delightful. She does all the prerequisite acting out, smoking, drinking, partying but underneath is a performance that's wise beyond her years. It's Shotwell as Ben, though, that ties everything together. He's too young to have a full grasp of what's happening around him and instead tries his best to keep being what he thinks he should be. Like his father, he at least understands how appearances work. He quietly suffers his family falling into disarray in devastating moments like changing his bed sheets after wetting them or hiding in long forgotten room while his sister has a massive party. Both performances ground the film into something more than "marriage on the rocks" fare. 

The Nest is a quiet, tense delight tearing down the fallacies of wealth and the ridiculous "Greed is Good" ethos of the 80s. Exquisite camera movements rework the boiler plate drama of a dissolution of a family into something both terrifying and hilarious, sometimes at once. Durkin's dry humor pulses throughout but it's his attention to dread that makes this soar. The dread you feel as the viewer and the dread that drifts from Rory to his wife and down to their children. It's a remarkable exercise and one of the year's very best.

-Brandon Streussnig