The Nest is a familial drama about wealth and lies, but this isn’t some earnest bore. It is a film of tone – thick, resonant tone. Each sequence is loaded with doubt and foreboding, which are hallmark sensibilities of director Sean Durkin, a filmmaker with a special flair for reality.
The camera is an important part of this naturalistic aura, and like Martha Marcy May Marlene, his debut feature from 2011, The Nest is a visually stunning piece of work. Durkin uses not Jody Lee Lipes, his cinematographer from Martha, but the Hungarian DOP Matya Erdely, who framed the nightmarish Holocaust drama Son of Saul. Erdely’s images are wide, colourful and flooded with natural light, making good use of the impressive locations that are mocked up to emulate 1980s England.
We know that it is the 1980s because of refreshingly subtle cues, such as news bulletins, boxy German saloons, and a low-key diegetic soundtrack from Bronski Beat and The Thompson Twins. This is the age of excess, and Rory (Jude Law) wants even more of it. An Englishman, he’s already a wealthy London trader, but he claims that opportunities have dried up in New York, where he lives with his American wife Allison (Carrie Coon) and their two children, Ben (Charlie Shotwell) and half-daughter Sam (Oona Roche).
After he delivers a bedside spiel about London’s potential, the family moves their life to an English manor house somewhere in the Home Counties. Rory’s enthusiasm is infectious – he’s fun, smart and charming, but Allison isn’t convinced. She exudes doubt in every frame, never capitulating to Rory’s assurances. She grins and bears it, though, playing the dutiful wife at moneyed cocktail parties where people speak of money and status, which is anathema to a woman who’d rather clear horseshit from the her stables.
This may sound like a typical psychodrama about perfect surfaces hiding a domestic underbelly, but The Nest avoids formula not only because of Erdely’s camerawork and Matthew Price’s sharp costume design, but also the actors’ superb performances. Rory and Alison share a very real chemistry that has nuanced romance and raw sexuality. In fact, it’s been several years since there was a screen relationship this authentic and multi-faceted. However, neither Rory nor Alison are especially sympathetic – he becomes a glib wide boy and she’s sometimes rude and combative – but Durkin’s vibe keeps us invested. Those expecting a crescendo to some kind of domestic fever pitch will be disappointed, but many will savour the slow burn energy of this perceptive mood feature.