A period drama and a thriller, ‘The Nest’ is a tense, understated film that has critics raving. Ahead of the film’s release in cinemas this weekend, we take a look at the film’s premise, where it’s set and why it’s being lauded by movie-lovers.
Set in the 1980s, ‘The Nest’ follows English entrepreneur Rory O’Hara (Jude Law), his wife, Allison (Carrie Coon), and their two children, Samantha (Oona Roche) and Benjamin (Charlie Shotwell). After deciding to abandon their comfortable life in a quiet New York suburb to relocate to an old country manor in England, their life takes a twisted turn, and tensions begin to tear the family apart.
Rory breaks an “opportunity in London” to his wife early on in the film, to which she reminds him that it would be their fourth move in 10 years. Later, Allison, distraught, tells her husband: “It’s horrible here. No one is the same here. Nothing is the same here,” even as Rory argues that there’s “nothing wrong with this house.”
The film is character-driven and hinges on performances by the two main leads, which critics have lauded. Coon, in particular, has been praised for giving “one of her most riveting performances to date,” according to IndieWire. Meanwhile, The Guardian states that we see “Jude Law at his best” here. As the Hollywood Reporter writes it in their review, what unfolds on-screen in ‘The Nest’ is “a hyper-nuanced study of marriage mind games.”
“Rory and Allison are very much in love … Rory uproots the family and takes them to England to follow an opportunity and Allison becomes a more conventional housewife, which is a very challenging assumption,” explained Coon in an interview with Variety. “For me, I feel the film resonated with me because it seems to be about the tacit agreements that form in a marriage or a family, and I think when outside conditions change, sometimes those agreements that are largely unspoken are challenged.”
Law agreed, adding: “It was nice starting on something that dealt with all the dramas and passions and complications that go with marriage and family life, without there having to be something like a divorce or a death or some kind of a tragedy at the heart of it. We all still deal with those dramas with love very much underpinning it and it somehow therefore made it more universal and personal, all at the same time.
‘The Nest’ is award-winning Canadian writer-director Sean Durkin’s second feature to date. His first feature film, ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’, is a 2011 family thriller about 22-year-old Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) who suffers from delusions and paranoia after leaving an abusive cult, and returning home to her family, including sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and brother Ted (Hugh Dancy). It won the Dramatic Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival on the year it was released. Nine years later, ’The Nest’ premiered at Sundance Film Festival.
Durkin began writing the script in 2014. Between several rough drafts, he would take six months off before returning to it. In 2017, Durkin took a year off following the birth of his daughter, and when he returned to the script, he was now a parent, which he calls an “interesting” experience.
Durkin deliberately set the thriller was in 1986, leading into an economic boom in London, and used the optimism of the time to his advantage. When it came time to shoot, Durkin’s directive to his team was to “not have too much fun” with the time setting, but rather approach it with a “light touch”.
As for directing his lead actors, Law and Coon, Durkin was happy to be involved deeply — or, take a more hands off approach.
“I direct every actor a little differently. I just try to get to know them and figure out what they need,” the filmmaker told No Film School. “Some people need very little; some people want to talk and do research and have conversations about the back story for months. I love that. But I also love it when someone’s like, ‘All right, I read the script, and I’ll see you next week on set.’ I trust them to do that because I’ve chosen them for a reason. I’ve had some sort of gut response to them — their work, their energy, what I think they’ll bring to the role — and I just trust it’s going to happen.
“From there, it’s about moulding [the performance] and communication and shaping it and aligning it with your vision. But you have to create that space where people can do their best work.”
Durkin, who began his journey into film as a cinematographer, wanted to make bold choices when it came to shooting ‘The Nest’ in order for viewers to feel like they were right there while things happened. He called his Director of Photography Matyas Erdely ‘so brave’.
“We wanted to be bold and let the actors go dark. Often the lights are behind them and you don’t see their faces clearly. Sometimes I think that’s really the best way to let a mood play out. There’s a scene between Carrie and Jude when [Jude’s character] asks her for money, and she gets up, and he’s got his back to us, and she’s totally standing in dark. For me, that says everything about their relationship at that point in time. You can’t really see them,” he said, in the same interview.
The idea of basing the film around a family’s move from New York to London was inspired, loosely, by events in Durkin’s own life. Durkin was born in Canada, but had moved to England at a young age, and then lived in Manhattan from the age of 12 onwards. He returned to London in 2012 as an adult to shoot the thriller mini series ‘Southcliffe’ — and the whole thing got him thinking.
“Now the move between New York and London is seamless, but back then, it was a really big difference. So, I wondered what it would be like to examine a family making this move at that time when it was a big difference. What would that move bring up for a family? And within that, dig further into the marriage and the secrets that people keep within each other, between each other,” Durkin told Third Coast Review.
“The idea came from this part of my childhood where I moved between England and the US… I [thought] that cultural change and that atmosphere change would make a really haunting shift in a film,” he added, in an interview with ‘Variety’.
The time period, around the time of the economic ‘Big Bang’ in London, was a huge part of the storytelling, according to lead actor Law. “It was the birth of the potential entrepreneur in England in a modern sense. What’s remarkable is that that [concept] hasn’t really changed,” says Law. “That passion for more, bigger, better, wider, louder… It was really interesting going back to a time perhaps when there was a slight naivete around that kind of belief.”
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‘The Nest’ releases in the UAE on October 15.