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‘The Nest’: Marriage and its slummy secrets

Dan Webster

Above: (L-R) Charlie Shotwell, Jude Law and Carrie Coon star in "The Nest." (Photo: Element Pictures)

Movie review: "The Nest," written and directed by Sean Durkin, starring Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Oona Roche, Charlie Shotwell. Streaming on Amazon Prime, Vudu, iTunes, etc.

Reactions to art don’t always occur immediately. Sometimes it takes a while for the full effect of something you find challenging to hit with the proper impact.

The first time I saw Richard Linklater’s 1993 movie “Dazed and Confused,” for example, I was unimpressed. I’d seen it at a mid-morning screening at what used to be the Lincoln Heights Cinemas, and when I arrived a couple of minutes late I discovered that the theater manager had already started the movie – even though I had been the one who’d arranged the preview event in the first place.

So although I missed only the only first couple of minutes, my anger clearly affected my attitude. That, plus the fact that scenes in the movie involving high-school hazing reminded me of some of my own school experiences, stuck with me – and were the main reasons why I gave the film only two and a half out of a possible four stars.

Now, of course, I would rate “Dazed and Confused” much higher. In fact, the very next time I saw it, I thought, “What was I thinking? This is a classic movie!”

I doubt I’ll ever describe writer-director Sean Durkin’s film “The Nest” as a classic. But I do know that while my initial reaction to it was fairly negative, I was still thinking about it – and trying to figure out what certain scenes meant – all the next day. And while that doesn’t mean that I think “The Nest” works totally, it’s equally clear to me that Durkin has a feel for cinema that I can’t easily dismiss.

In short, “The Nest” is a study of family dysfunction. It concerns the O’Haras, a blended foursome living, when we first meet them, in New York. One morning father and head of household Rory (played by Jude Law) awakens his wife, Allison (played by Carrie Coon), and tells her they need to move. Seems a firm in London has made money-manager Rory an offer too good to pass up, and this being the everything-goes economy of the mid-1980s, he’s agreed to take it.

No one except Rory is particularly happy about the move. The two children, sister Sam (Oona Roche) and little brother Ben (Charlie Shotwell), will have to attend snooty schools in a foreign country. Wife and mother Allison, whose sideline if not actual career is as a horse trainer, will both have to see about continuing her work and worry about transporting her favorite horse, Richmond, safely across the ocean.

The family ends up living on an estate set outside of London that Rory has rented, one that features a mansion that seems to have more rooms than London has round-abouts. If nothing else, the place fits the grand notions that Rory has about himself – notions that we, and his family, gradually come to see are less reality than mere illusion.

But this realization comes slowly, which clearly is Durkin’s intent, just as is the creepy “Amityville Horror” aura that he affects, what with the family members never becoming fully comfortable in an increasingly creepy-feeling house, with Richmond growing ever more hard for Allison to handle, and with Sam and Ben having trouble acclimating to their new schools.

Not to mention the sequence involving a pit that, once filled, seems to disgorge its contents in an almost ghostly manner.

And I emphasize the word “almost.” Because although Durkin gives “The Nest” the same kind of paranoid sensibility he did with his 2011 first feature “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” it carries none of that film’s inherent menace. While “Martha Marcy, etc.” features an unsettling undertone of impending violence, and in fact is built around a particularly senseless act of brutality, “The Nest” is – in the end – a simple tale of a marriage falling apart. Not really that dissimilar, in the end, to Noah Baumbach’s 2019 study “Marriage Story.”

What differences there are largely involve the characterization of the male lead. Law’s Rory, we ultimately realize, is over his head. All hat and no rodeo, as Western fans would say. We see one of the big reasons why in a telling scene with his mother, a woman who even after a decade has not met her grandchildren – and probably for good reason.

Brilliantly portrayed by Coon, Allison, too, slowly comes to see  behind Rory’s mask. Her awakening doesn’t arrive any too soon, though, as daughter Sam tells her, because she has obvious needs of her own – needs that, despite her apparent affection for both her children, she puts before even them.

Maybe, then, it was because of the contrast between the storyline that Durkin was portraying and the style with which he portrayed it. Maybe it was because his vision of England looked more gloomy than week-old blood pudding. Maybe it was what I’d eaten for dinner.

Clearly, though, something about “The Nest” left me, at least initially, a bit – yes –dazed and confused. And, to be honest, the feeling lingers.

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