‘The Nest’ Brings Horror Elements To Family Drama

by Jonah Desneux on September 18, 2020

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Solid Rock Fist Up]

In theaters and VOD September 18.

The Nest is the ultimate “Mom and Dad are loudly fighting in the other room and I have never been this uncomfortable in my entire life” movie. Sean Durkin’s newest feature is a two-trick pony, but thankfully both of these tricks are really really good.

The first “trick” is Durkin’s use of horror in a film that is simply a family drama. Never over the top or even as parody, Durkin transports a film that at its core is quite unextraordinary—into a realm of fear and suspense. The film is framed as a haunted house tale but there are no spirits to be seen. In a similar vein of the zombie cliche of “the zombies aren’t the real monsters, people are,” The Nest shamelessly takes the approach that ghosts aren’t real terrors in your life, but your broken marriage, the destructive male-ego, and feelings of failure are. This unique approach may make you put up a camp guard at first (mine sure was), but as the film proceeds it becomes clear that the director is less focused on showing off his clever ideas, but instead playing with the form of film itself.

The other “trick” that greatly compliments the film’s look and feel are Carrie Coon and Jude Law’s magnificent performances. In what may, unfortunately, get stuck in the shadow of last year’s divorce drama Marriage Story, Coon and Law brilliantly showcase a more toxic portrayal of a broken marriage. Never quite knowing if the husband and wife’s true feelings for one another for a majority of the film, the tension the actors create with each other is at times unbearable in the best ways. When these two go at it, they go at it and the voyeuristic effect created is soul-shattering. Coon and Law both give career-best performances in their own way, but together they produce magic. A vile, jaw-dropping, uncomfortable black magic, but still magic.

Set in the ‘80s, The Nest is a family drama that explores how destructive the male-ego of wanting more and more can be to a family. In an attempt to gain what he feels like he deserves, Rory (Law) decides to move his family from their American home of ten plus years back to London for a career opportunity. The family does not leave behind their personal baggage in America and the tumultuous move begins to show the rips in their fragile bond. Allison (Coon) does her best to care for her teenage children (Oona Roche and Charlie Shotwell) and keep her life and her family from falling into complete madness.

In the hellscape that is 2020, it’s immensely satisfying to watch a new release that looks so good. The last film I watched in theaters before the shutdown was Sonic The Hedgehog and the sour taste of generic visuals has lingered on my tongue and mind for far too long. The Nest is an artistic palette cleanser. It is a wonderful reminder of the effects a film’s aesthetic can have. Hopefully, this is a sign of what’s to come in the following months, because we need visually pleasing films now more than ever.

The Nest has a refreshingly bleak look that captures the eye in every frame. Like a sad picture book, each shot is soaked in dread representing the character’s damaged mental state. Durkin and his production team paint the film with dull dry colors and the results are anything but boring. Somehow they make the drab pop in ways that I have never seen in any other film before. The mise-en-scene smoothy functions with theatrical dialogue and staging of the film to create wonders. At times the spoken word is so performative that your mind cynically strays into the thought that it’s too play-like, but then the next shot captures visual techniques that could not be replicated on stage. A hybrid-like medium is created in this way and the results are an experience that every fan of film and theatre should seek out.

It is easy to get caught up in the exceptional aspects of The Nest, however, once the awe of the near-perfect features of the film wears off it is also easy to point out all its faults. The film takes some time to settle into. The opening credits and the twisting of the American dream is an eerie and effective beginning that sets up the nature and commentary of the film. This is however the peak of scenes taking place in America. Exposition is necessary to dive into the depth of the characters and their family dynamic but we still don’t get the meat of this until we make the switch to London.

Too much time is spent lingering in America, setting up characters that don’t fit right with how they are portrayed in the second half. The haunting effects of the film also don’t hit the mark in these opening scenes. Without having the investment into the characters and the understanding of their psyches, the chilling nature often comes off as silly rather than gripping. The first half of the film has pivotal moments that lead to a spectacular payoff in the second half. The weaker moments in this time serve no real purpose and holds the film from being even more captivating than could be.

As great as Law is in the film, and he is great, Coon is an absolute rockstar that steals the show. Acting is all about tricking the audience’s brain. This comes in the complex form of embodying a fictional character so well that it fools the audiences conscious enough to throw away reality to believe the fake as fact for the time being. The other form is a simple way of using your emotions to trigger an emotional response in the audience. The latter is easy. Anyone can scare you by yelling, anyone can make you sad by seeing them cry, and anyone can make you smile by hearing their laugh. The best actors though are the ones who know to dive into their emotional portals to establish a sense of realism that goes beyond the simplicity of action-reaction. 

The Nest serves as a catalyst for Coon to show that she is one of the best actors we have today. In scenes of extreme tension where Coon is required to yell until her throat gives out, you do not just hear the anger in her voice. You hear her sadness, her desire, and the most damning of all, her disappointment. The Nest is about a couple haunted by their past and life itself. This novel idea is bathed in simplicity that could not work if Coon did not go above and beyond. The term “powerful” is thrown around a lot describing performances, but there is no greater compliment greater than a performer having a pure controlled power. Coon’s performance alone brings the film to a higher level and it will be a great shame if it ends up getting buried in the chaos that is this year.

Jonah Desneux

Jonah Desneux is a recent graduate from the University of Missouri with a BA in Film Studies. It’s baffling that someone who just spent four years writing film paper after film paper would immediately want to write some more, but hey, he must love it! Along with writing about film Jonah enjoys writing and performing sketch comedy in Columbia and Kansas City.

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