“There’s an opportunity,” Rory tells his American wife, “in London.” “Go fuck yourself,” she replies, leaving little doubt as to Allison’s stance on the matter. But this is the 1980s, when women still vow to obey their husbands during the marriage ceremony, and some of them even do. And like a good wife, Allison (Carrie Coon) packs up her home, her two children, Samantha (Oona Roche) and Ben (Charlie Shotwell), and even her horse, and off they go…not so much to London, that’s where the work is done, the man’s domain, but to a sprawling English country manor that Rory (Jude Law) has rented for them.
It is unclear whether Rory is indeed chasing new opportunity or fleeing old problems, but he’s commuting to his London office every day, filled with vigor and optimism working for an old boss with new prospects in his back pocket. Rory is your classic 80s businessman – a snake charmer, basically. Projecting a lifestyle well beyond his means, bluffing his way to the top, making bigger and bigger promises to plug the holes immediately behind him, never looking for enough forward, always certain of the coming boom. He over-promises and under-delivers and it’s soon clear that he lies in his personal life as much as in business. What isn’t clear is if the bad things that keep befalling his family are simply the result of karma or perhaps bad luck, or if the home they’ve moved into is casting some sort of sinister spell.
Writer-director Sean Durkin is a master of mood, and from the first strains of ominous music causing Sean to creepy-whisper the film’s title in my ear, he dresses the set to complement and exacerbate the tension within the family. The old house is dimly lit, the shadows encroaching upon the family, ready, almost, to envelope them. I reassure myself that IMDB has indeed called this a drama and not a horror, but I suppose a haunted house IS quite dramatic, and why haven’t we ruled this out yet? Actually, if the house is haunted, it’s not by ghosts but by lies – the ones we tell ourselves, the ones we tell others, the ones we’ve told by omission. Rory’s family have just moved to a new country but it’s not simply geography keeping them isolated.
The cast is good and the performances strong, with Carrie Coon the stand-out as a woman navigating the choppy waters between the freedom of independence and the comfort of reliance. Allison doesn’t know because she doesn’t want to know. She wears the fur but hides money around the house. When she is finally confronted with reality, the cracks begin to appear, and I don’t just mean in the foundation of their ridiculously large rental.
The Nest is a good film, not a great one. Rory is too despicable to like but too uninteresting to root against. We want to empathize with Allison but she feels cold, unknowable. There’s no real path to connection. Rory is a sleazy businessman, a snake charmer, but he’s ultimately failed to charm us, robbing us of what might have been an even better movie.