Sundance 2020: The Nest, by David Bax
If Sean Durkin’s The Nest were simplistic enough for me to describe it as being “about” something, you could definitely say it’s about the importance of not lying to your spouse. The tension in the central marriage, though present from the start, begins to build uncontrollably as Alison (Carrie Coon) becomes increasingly aware of her husband Rory’s (Jude Laws) many lies. But Durkin’s chasing something more ineffable here, a quicksand slide into what becomes of us when the thing we’re running toward becomes just as frightening as the thing we’re running from.
Rory and Alison’s house in the suburbs outside of New York City, where they live with their son, Ben (Charlie Shotwell), and Alison’s daughter, Sam (Oona Roche), is so luxurious and modern that it’s not immediately clear the movie takes place in the 1980s. Soon enough, though, we get chunky cordless phones, references to President Reagan on the radio and way too much casual cigarette smoking for this to be present day America. 1980s USA, though, is not cutting it for the London-born Rory, who convinces the family to return to his motherland when he accepts a plush new gig at a trading firm. Soon after arriving at the centuries-old mansion Rory’s rented out in Surrey, though, Alison starts to confirm what she already suspected, that not everything Rory’s telling them is true.
Fittingly for the U.K. setting, The Nest is not quite as sun-dappled as Durkin’s first film, 2011’s Martha Marcy May Marlene. But, working this time around with cinematographer Mátyás Erdély, Durkin maintains the wide shots that pan or push in parallel to the action. Given the tony surroundings, Barry Lyndon comes to mind.
On the other hand, the music in The Nest is far from Kubrickian. There are, of course, the songs of the day constantly blaring from the perpetually irritable Sam’s bedroom, from “Love My Way” to “Hold Me Now” to “Bizarre Love Triangle.” But the score by Richard Reed Perry slinks along with sinister intent like minimalist jazz from one of the cooler parts of Hell.
It sounds like the music from a horror movie which, in all honesty, is kind of what The Nest is. There are some actual trademarks of the genre like the spooky old house with secret passages and mysteriously opened doors, as well as at least one possible ghostly visitor. But Durkin finds a deeper, more existential level of terror when he wonders if anything of the life we build for ourselves is real and if there’s anything to catch us when it disappears beneath us.