by Hamish Calvert
Writer-director Sean Durkin’s sophomore film, The Nest begins with an exterior shot of the O’Hara family home in mid-eighties, suburban New York. The Canadian filmmaker tells us a lot with this one shot, which lingers just long enough for audiences to gain a good understanding of the characters they’re about to be introduced to. In the frame viewers see a detached house, with a front garden and a garage. Outside of the garage are two cars parked in a driveway; a large four wheel drive vehicle and a Mercedes. From this shot alone it’s clear that the O’Hara’s live a comfortable, middle-class life.
The satisfying rhythm of their life in New York is further captured as we see Allison O’Hara (Carrie Coon) instructing pupils at a horse riding stables, her daughter Sam (Oona Roche) participating in gymnastics at her local school and her younger, half-brother Ben (Charlie Shotwell) playing with his friend in their back garden next to their swimming pool. However, Allison’s husband, Rory (Jude Law) isn’t as settled as the rest of his family and persuades her to move to England in order to pursue a new career opportunity. Hoping to take advantage of the financial and political climate that was set to make London a major worldwide financial hub, this move sees the O’Hara’s unhealthy relationship with wealth, class and status tested to its limits.
Whilst potentially not the most gripping of stories on paper, Durkin’s new drama is brought to life in vivid fashion largely due to the impressive performances from his leading stars. Both Law and Coon are on fine form here and their portrayal of this married couple is consistently captivating. Law expertly jettisons his previously charismatic persona in the creation of his character who’s ultimately driven by wealth and status beyond all else. The nature of his character allows him to demonstrate the strength of his ability in that he has to adopt a faux kind of charm that audiences are meant to see through, and he achieves this to great effect.
Somewhat counteracting Law’s Rory, Coon’s work as Allison will see audiences gravitating more closely to her. She experiences the same eventual fate as her husband yet through a very different lens, one that evokes somewhat more sympathy than that will be felt for Rory. However, Coon displays an acute naivety in Allison showing that she thinks she’s beyond the class politics and uppity that she calls out in her husband when she’s in fact similarly guilty of it herself, just in less obvious ways. Their dramatic chemistry is electric to watch and there’s no doubt that the film’s main successes lie in the strength of these performances.
The narrative, despite not being anything of remarkable interest when viewed in isolation, is nonetheless conveyed here well and Durkin’s film is paced to perfection. It rightfully criticises middle and upper-class attitudes and behaviour allowing our characters the chance to experience some painful home truths. Furthermore, the careful character work allows for many moments of dramatic tension that are just too good not to indulge in, the kind of tension that spawns awkward laughter from both the characters and the audience. Durkin crafts this very well, building it throughout his screenplay ensuring that these scenes have maximum effect when they arrive. The progression in Richard Reed Parry’s score helps to contribute to this as well, after the arrival of the O’Hara’s on English soil he introduces more disruption to the previous delicate and content sounds that surrounded their life in New York. The film eventually abandons this score altogether in place of a number of more energetic pop songs, demonstrating Allison’s glorious release from the confines of keeping up appearances. The slightest touches like this assist in hinting that the egotistical house of cards that Rory so carelessly builds and refuses to ever be content with could collapse at any moment.
Ultimately Durkin’s sophomore film is a compelling study of misplaced entitlement and the desire for status that drives middle class families to reach beyond their means. There’s no doubt that viewers will struggle to sympathise with the characters on screen here, however The Nest doesn’t necessarily ask that of audiences. Instead it offers a damning portrait of class politics, bolstered by a duo of fantastic central performances with ample amounts of dramatic agitation. It’s a ticking time bomb of a film, and one you secretly want to see go off.
The Nest is out in cinemas now.