It’s been a long wait for the arrival of Sean Durkin’s The Nest – two long waits in fact. This is Durkin’s first feature since his Elizabeth Olsen-starring breakout Martha Marcy May Marlene all the way back in 2011, and it’s taken over 18 months to reach UK screens after its 2020 Sundance premiere. Thankfully, the end product is worth your patience, a whip-smart and slow burn drama for adults about the corrosive effects of money troubles and male entitlement.
Embodying this entitlement is Rory O’Hara (Jude Law), an English stock trader living in suburban New York with his American wife Allison (Carrie Coon) and his young son and older stepdaughter. It seems an idyllic existence, but Rory is clearly dissatisfied, and decides to uproot his family and return to London – where he initially made his name as a trader – so he can have a shot at being a real power player after the massive financial deregulations of 1986.
In an attempt to prove, to himself as much as anyone, that he’s to be taken seriously, Rory immediately starts throwing money around – money that he doesn’t quite have. His first big spend is on a year’s rent on a Surrey manor, a place far too big for a single family, and it’s in this empty, dark space that the O’Haras begin falling to pieces.
Before the cracks start to visibly show, Richard Reed Parry’s phenomenally ominous score lets us know they’re forming, and it’s not long before a tentative excitement has curdled into furious resentment. Though the tone is ever-so-slightly heightened, Durkin’s intelligent and careful writing keeps this family unit entirely believable, even as their lives go off the rails. The good times come with some bad and the bad with some good, a balance perfectly maintained all the way until a very cathartic and darkly funny ending.
Though The Nest can take a while to really get into gear, the more languorous pacing really allows Durkin and DOP Matyas Erdely to explore the creepiness of the oversized O’Hara home. It looks cold and empty, the sheer vastness of the rooms meaning light doesn’t reach the corners – even in the middle of the day there are pitch-black spots. There’s nothing supernatural going on in The Nest, but this is the kind of place where a ghost story might be set, and Durkin plays around with that, conjuring a few spine-chilling moments where the family feel hints of a haunting.
Matching the smarts of the writing and directing are the two lead performances. Law and Coon are both putting in work that’s right up there with the very best of their careers, and Coon in particular is extraordinary, inching towards a breakdown scene by scene, imperceptible changes adding up for eventual explosive effect. Law has a difficult job of keeping Rory compelling despite his increasing shittiness, but he handles the descent from charismatic bon vivant to something far more pathetic with expert skill, allowing us to feel pity along with our disgust.
To use the old cliché, The Nest is one of those movies that ‘they don’t make any more’, a handsomely filmed, sexy, and writing-led drama, anchored by powerhouse performances. It’s a small-ish scale story but with a control of atmosphere that demands a cinema trip to get the most out of it, a brilliant piece of counterprogramming to the summer glut of sequels and superheroes.