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Review: The Nest – “A mesmerizing piece of cinema”

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Part chilling psychological thriller, part elegant period piece with an incredible sense of time and place, The Nest is at the core a tense family drama about the complex nuances of married life. It’s the kind of unnerving narrative where the seemingly slow-burn pace keeps audiences on the edge of their seats, relentlessly second-guessing the characters’ choices and motivations until the very end.

Writer/director Sean Durkin isn’t new to this kind of storytelling approach as proven by his breakthrough feature debut, Martha Marcy May Marlene, which earned him the Directing Award at Sundance Film Festival in 2011. He’s the kind of auteur who delves deep into his characters’ psyche, grabs the viewers by the jugular and takes them on a hypnotic cinematic journey that, this time around, is worthy of the best Hitchcock and Kubrick.

In the filmmaker’s own words, “The Nest is set in 1986 to explore the link between America and the UK pre-financial crash, the emerging global market and London at the height of deregulation.” The story follows Rory O’Hara (Jude Law), a charming entrepreneur who decides to uproot his family from their cushy life in Upstate New York and return to his British homeland to take advantage of the booming London market in the 80s.

Rory’s American wife, Allison (Carrie Coon), is not exactly jubilant at the idea of relocating their children so far away, in a place where they don’t have any friends or family (details about Rory’s British past will surface in due time…) but Rory is adamant about seizing an opportunity since business has apparently dried up in the US. His old mentor has reached out to offer him a chance that would eventually allow him to start his own company and Rory thinks “you shouldn’t work for anyone but yourself, be your own boss.”

Albeit reluctantly, Allison gets on board and the O’Hara clan is off to England, where Rory has purchased a mansion in Surrey with enough land for Allison to build her own equestrian school and he even buys and flies over her favourite horse from the US. Soon though, the novelty and enthusiasm of this fresh start wear off and things get wobbly as the couple’s pre-teen son Ben (Charlie Shotwell) gets bullied at his expensive preppy school, whilst their teenage daughter Sam (Oona Roche) falls in with the wrong crowd.

Rory and Allison however fail to notice what’s going on with the kids as they get caught up in their marital hurdles. The underlying tension between the two unravels pre-existing issues clearly linked to their financial status. In a memorable scene where they finally share a fancy dinner date in London after Rory has been MIA for work, Allison confronts her husband, claiming that the latest deposits he’s made don’t match how much he’s been spending. Rory reassures her that everything is fine, and that he’s got a big check coming up at the end of the month, so Allison passive-aggressively orders the most expensive food and wine on the menu.

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If you’re still criminally unacquainted with the brilliance of Carrie Coon (Gone Girl, TV’s Fargo and The Leftovers), this film is your chance to discover her natural talent for compelling, multi-faceted roles. She owns every scene she appears in and has got a perfect counterpart in Jude Law, who nails the nuanced mix of charisma and insecurity behind Rory’s journey. Sometimes it’s easy to get distracted by the actor’s stunning looks and forget his illustrious film and theatre pedigree but the level of craft he brings to this part makes for one of his best performances to date.

The Nest explores themes of masculinity, family hierarchy and gender dynamics that, despite its period setting, feel rather resonant with our current societal structure. Having grown up between the US and England in the 80s and 90s, filmmaker Sean Durkin has always been fascinated by the stark contrast between those two countries and wanted to capture that different atmosphere, whilst exploring the complexities of marriage in naturalistic fashion. He’s almost a voyeuristic observer in that respect, showing us the genuine chemistry between Rory and Allison and yet their inability to fully trust each other. And of course, the change of scenery can’t be the solution to their problems. If anything, in this case, it only heightens the tension and creates new challenges.

Durkin masterfully matches the substance of his tight screenplay with the elegant aesthetics of his filmmaking style, which results in a mesmerizing piece of cinema. There are moments when you almost expect the film to unfold as a supernatural mystery as for instance, the symbolism oozing off the horse’s storyline plays out like quasi magic realism. But all of that is counterbalanced by the naturalistic character study at the heart of the narrative. The Nest is a relationship drama about a family in need of mending, whose polished façade is a desperate cry for help. It is unsettling, brutal, yet entertaining and humorous but most importantly it leaves you pondering about what truly matters in this nonsensical journey called life.

The Nest is in UK cinemas from 27th August 2021.

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