By Richard Ades
Several times during The Nest, Rory O’Hara (Jude Law) is seen delivering a morning cup of coffee to his still-sleeping wife, Allison (Carrie Coon). The significance of the recurrent scene changes over time.
At first, it appears to show a thoughtful husband taking part in one of the comfortable rituals that mark a successful relationship. Later, it appears to say more about the wife. Does her tendency to sleep late symbolize her apparent ability to put off dealing with the problems that have long been developing in their marriage?
The first hint of trouble comes when Rory tells Allison they must leave their ritzy American home—which includes ample space for her to ply her trade as an equestrian instructor—and return to his native London. Things just aren’t working out here, he says, and besides, his old company is begging him to return (which, it turns out, is a lie).
Allison briefly complains that they’ve already moved several times for similar reasons, but she ultimately gives in. So, after shipping her favorite horse to the UK, she sets off for London with their two kids, teenage Samantha (Oona Roche) and 10-year-old Benjamin (Charlie Shotwell). There, Allison is surprised to learn that Rory has already leased a farm with a gigantic mansion worthy of landed gentry. This begins ringing belated alarm bells, particularly after she finds that Rory is allowing their bills to go unpaid.
Written and directed by Sean Durkin, who’s best known for 2011’s tense Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Nest often comes off as a thriller or even a horror film. Spooky music, baroque interiors and a horse’s terrified screams may even make you wonder whether the family’s new home is haunted. Both Samantha and Benjamin seem to suspect it is, the younger boy being particularly terrified.
Essentially, though, this is the tale of a family unraveling because it’s headed by a man who insists on chasing elusive fantasies of success. To the extent that the film itself succeeds, it’s because all four of the principal players are wonderful, starting with Law as a driven individual incapable of recognizing his own delusions and limitations.
To the extent the film fails, on the other hand, it’s because Durkin works harder at creating an atmosphere than he does at establishing relatable characters. He doesn’t make us care enough about these people, and he then compounds the problem by telling their tale in a leisurely manner.
The film somewhat makes up for its deficiencies with an ending that offers at least partial closure, but viewers should be aware that patience is required along the way.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
The Nest (rated R) is available from VOD outlets beginning Nov. 17.