REVIEW: The Nest [2020]

Rating: 8 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 107 minutes
    Release Date: September 18th, 2020 (USA)
    Studio: IFC Films
    Director(s): Sean Durkin
    Writer(s): Sean Durkin

If I don’t worry, no one will.

I think a lot of people are telling on themselves when describing Sean Durkin‘s latest film The Nest as the “dissolution of a marriage” since that’s very clearly not what it is. They’re either revealing that they’ve been lucky enough to not yet deal with the inevitable turmoil any partnership must endure to discover whether it’s strong enough to move forward or that they see the characters’ ability to angrily walk away without guilt when they’re the victims of an injustice as a final emotional response to their life together rather than a solitary incident. These emotionally heated exchanges conversely prove Allison (Carrie Coon) and Rory O’Hara’s (Jude Law) marriage is actually ironclad. Their refusal to ignore the unavoidable problems being laid bare confirms their love is everlasting.

She’s American. He’s a Brit. He crossed the Atlantic to escape the “small-minded” attitude and regulations holding London’s stock market back from the heights possible in New York City and was successful enough to become a literal millionaire while piecing together the life he didn’t have as a poor kid in England. He fell for Allison and her daughter Sam (Oona Roche), expanded the family to four with their son Ben (Charlie Shotwell), and willingly moved away from the big city to be closer to her family with the idealistic notion he was a success wherever he went. She got to train horses and riders while he worked from home. They found happiness as a unit while he wondered if it came at the cost of his ambition.

Enter lie number one: Rory’s former UK boss Arthur Davis (Michael Culkin) called him with an opportunity. No more than five seconds later arrives lie number two: their money situation was fine and this potential move (their fifth in ten years) was solely about the prospect of earning more. He’s good at lying. It’s what he does for a living in order to sell shares and turn profits. Allison knows it too. She’s been to fancy New York dinners and watched him wrap the room around his finger. But he hadn’t yet lied to her. He hadn’t yet had to create an elaborate scenario to shield the fact that his dreams of wealth still far-exceeded his happiness with family. And she hadn’t yet had to tell him, “No.”

The Nest is therefore a portrayal of a marriage’s ability to bend rather than break. Durkin says that his priority was to explore this union between Allison and Rory in a “truthful way” that exposes the complexities of their dynamic and how its implicit equality under the filter of American progressiveness becomes explicitly ignored under that of British conservatism circa 1986. This is a culture clash between expectation and necessity. Rory believes he can juggle his way through it by being two different people at once, but no one is buying it. Not Arthur. Not an old colleague in Steve (Adeel Akhtar). Not Allison. She will not become the dutiful housewife relegated to the background of posh parties. She will not be one of his marks.

In America they both had jobs and incomes. If she needed something, he’d give her the money. If he needed something, she’d do the same. And it worked … until it didn’t … for him. Somewhere along the line he grew restless. He needed excitement and risk. He needed to be a man. So he conjures an idea that will net him a ton of cash—enough to afford a country mansion they don’t need, stop Allison from having to work despite her desire to work, and make the lies he’s been telling for years about owning multiple penthouses and sending the kids to the best schools into reality. Rory puts everything on the line for this dream while Allison and the kids do the same for him.

And it quickly unravels thanks to the toxic masculinity of two cultures making Rory the worst exemplar of both. No one in England cares about his fictitious life of excess because they don’t want excess. Allison doesn’t want him to position himself as an oppressively British patriarch because she knows he’s always been one to overspend. The dissolution on display is thus not their marriage, but his childhood ambition to be what society had trained him a successful man was. It’s only right then that a taxi driver will candidly tell him to wake-up and realize all the things he thinks makes him a heroic dad/husband are actually the minimum requirements of the job. It’s only right that Allison lets him hit rock bottom to do the same.

She knows his tricks. It’s why the first thing she does when unpacking is hide a box holding her savings so he can’t swindle it away in case he does end up swindling the rest. Allison takes his gifts and willingly plays the part of “wife” when asked because she’s in on his game. The moment she discovers she isn’t (lie number one is exposed during party number one and lie number two follows quickly behind), however, is the moment she insulates herself from the inevitable fallout by bolstering what control she does still retain. Tragedy will strike regardless since the lies that built this new chapter in their lives are devolving at a rapid pace and it will risk destroying them all with a horror film’s malice.

Rather than a demon or ghost, this manor on the English countryside is haunted by the resentment inherent to playing second fiddle to the person you’ve always placed first. Death, rebellion, and fear permeate the deafening silence of this expansive estate until it becomes a prison of crippling expectations that cannot be fulfilled. None of them want to be left alone and yet that’s exactly what’s happening. The kids are left by their parents, Allison by Rory, and Rory by the promises he made himself when under the delusion he could make the England of old embrace his newfound and cutthroat American affinity for the bottom-line. Anarchy is unleashed as they descend into the oblivion guaranteed by Rory’s excess. Emancipation arrives if they mutually agree enough is enough.

Durkin exposes the danger of the allure of 80s materialism that was propped up as the American Dream (a truth still causing devastating ripples today) by spotlighting the destructive potential of its cracks. Rory lies that everything is under control. Allison lies that everything will be okay. And the kids lie that they can make this move work. Those lies push them apart, build to emotionally explosive arguments (Law and Roche are very good, Coon is great), and ultimately reveal how they’re better suited to a simpler life as long as they still have each other. The Nest is therefore a locomotive devoid of brakes heading for a crash unless it can stop itself first. Some see the ending as the former. I see it as a sigh of relief.

[1] Jude Law as “Rory” and Carrie Coon as “Allison” in Sean Durkin’s THE NEST. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.
[2] Jude Law as “Rory” and Carrie Coon as “Allison” in Sean Durkin’s THE NEST. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.
[3] Jude Law as “Rory”, Carrie Coon as “Allison” and Charlie Shotwell as “Benjamin” in Sean Durkin’s THE NEST. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.

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