Debuting at this year’s Sundance Film Fest, The Nest is writer/director Sean Durkin’s long-awaited follow-up to 2011’s chilling character piece Martha Marcy May Marlene. While that film did not register a sizable impact at the box office, it’s cathartic impact still lingers with audiences today, serving as a breakout for star Elizabeth Olsen. Implementing a similar slow-burn approach, The Nest elicits a thoughtful deconstruction of the family structure through its standout performance work.
The Nest follows Rory (Jude Law) and Allison (Carrie Coon), a couple happily living in America with their nuclear family unit (Charlie Shotwell plays Benjamin and Oona Rocha plays Samantha, Allison’s daughter from a previous relationship). Their picturesque lifestyle seemingly evaporates when Rory’s ambition drives the family to London, as the move slowly unveils their disconnected dynamics.
Both Jude Law and Carrie Coon demonstrate their assured abilities with two tantalizing parts. Rory’s smarmy and slick charms are tailor-made for Law’s charismatic delivery, with the actor nestling into the kind of role he’s made a career out of playing (Contagion and Closer come to mind). Thankfully, this film allows Law to explore this persona with proper nuance, masterfully tapping into the shallowness and insecurity that motivates his self-serving actions. Coon provides the emotional anchor as Allison, a discontented housewife trying to maintain a sense of identity despite Rory’s overbearing control. Her voice incrementally grows throughout the duration, leading to tense sparring matches over the couple’s disillusioned lifestyle. These frames pack the film’s marquee moments, featuring two acting heavyweights going toe-to-toe with raw authenticity.
Despite a decade-long wait, Sean Durkin’s finite ability remains intact. His script and direction work with intimate intricacy, utilizing every frame to steadily build upon the faulty central dynamics. Matyas Erdely’s photography extenuates the simmering dysfunction aptly, conveying the character’s emotionality with a precise and refined hand. I also loved Durkin’s use of the film’s 80’s setting, twisting the pop confectionary tracks of the era into a soundtrack with much more sinister connotations (happy this film also didn’t shove its time period in the audiences face). These elements blend together to form a sound deconstruction of the family’s pristine nucleus image, offering an encompassing commentary on the secluded divide buried underneath familiar ties.
The Nest mannered presentation packs modest values, although some of its dramatic potential feels somewhat untapped. When the focus is solely on the breakdown of their family unit, the film sings with searing dramatic moments that linger past the closing credits. However, Durkin’s script often gets sidetracked by flat narrative detours that don’t quite strike with resonance (the minutiae of Rory’s office work is overdone considering it’s just a simplistic reflection of the character’s shallow pursuit for wealth). I also felt the film took some time to find comfortable ground, with the first act elongated pace lacking the potency of the final two acts.
At its best, The Nest mines an intricate portrait of family dysfunction through its stellar performance work.
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