Almost a half-hour into “The Nest” (IFC Films/FilmNation), the devastating second feature film from Sean Durkin (director of the acclaimed 2011 movie “Martha Marcy May Marlene”), one character says to another, “We take the good with the bad when we marry. Although, I think that’s changing.”
“The Nest” is an unflinching portrait of a marriage unraveling. If you are feeling even the least bit depressed (and who isn’t these days?), I recommend waiting to watch “The Nest,” which is a must-see, until you are in the right mood.
Commodities broker Rory (a particularly greasy Jude Law) and horse-riding instructor Allison (Carrie Coon giving an Oscar-worthy performance) have a nice life in New York. They live with their two kids, Ben (Charlie Shotwell) and Sam (Oona Roche), Allison’s teenage daughter from a previous marriage.
It’s the mid-1980s. Reagan is still POTUS. London-native Rory is restless and running out of business options. He tells Allison there’s a business opportunity too good to pass up in about-to-be booming London, where regulations and the culture have changed. It’s a chance for him to make some real money. But Allison is hesitant — “risk averse” as Rory calls her — because it will be their fourth move in 10 years.
Regardless, Rory steamrolls ahead and rents an estate in Surrey for which he pays the entire year’s rent. Allison, Ben and Sam arrive, along with some belongings and furniture, as well as Allison’s horse Richmond. Rory has big plans for the property, including having a six-stall stable built. As if to put her mind at ease, he presents Allison with a fur coat.
Each member of the family begins the process of settling in. However, Ben admits to Sam that the house, which is enormous, scares him. Sam agrees, calling it a “creepy fucking place.”
Meanwhile, Rory and Allison find time for a post-work shag before attending a party thrown by Rory’s boss Arthur (Michael Culkin). It’s there that we begin to see the doubts about her husband in Allison’s eyes. It won’t be the last time we see this expression on her face. It’s one of the elements of Coon’s performance that makes it so transformative.
It doesn’t take long before the briefly happy period begins to come to an end. Rory is busily scheming, making multiple incorrect assumptions at work. Allison’s horse is being difficult, acting wildly. Ben wets his bed. Sam smokes in secret. When Allison drives the kids to school, they are always late.
Work on the stables abruptly ends because the checks that Rory wrote bounced. They are out of money because Rory insists on living beyond his means. In a painful restaurant scene, Allison and Rory, having trouble holding back their feelings, publicly call each other names. Aware that Allison has her own secret stash of cash, Rory asks her for a loan. Before she gives it to him, she asks him to leave the room so he can’t see where it’s hidden.
Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse, they do. Richmond takes sick and dies. Rory’s business dealings fail. Sam begins to act out more. Bullied Ben hurts a classmate. Rory and Allison’s fights grow increasingly ugly. His reaction to the horse’s death is inappropriate. She accuses him of being “a poor kid pretending to be rich.” The verbal abuse reaches its peak at an embarrassing dinner with potential business partners where Allison can no longer contain herself and calls out Rory. And there’s still almost 30 minutes to go in the movie.
Shattering and tragic, “The Nest” is an artistic triumph for Durkin and Coon. Extremely raw and difficult to watch, with a somewhat perplexing finale, “The Nest” is still worth landing in for the length of its runtime.
Screen Savor is a weekly column from SFGN’s film critic Gregg Shapiro. Shapiro is an entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in regional LGBT and mainstream media outlets. Shapiro is the author of seven books including the 2019 chapbooks, Sunshine State and More Poems About Buildings and Food. Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.