Sean Durkin has returned to Sundance this year with THE NEST (2020) after nine years, since his breakout cult hit, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011).  Critics have categorized the film as a “slow-burn psychological thriller” and a better term for it is hard to describe.

During the rise of the competitive market in the ‘80s, entrepreneur Rory O’Hara (Jude Law) moves his American wife, Allison (Carrie Coon), and their children (Charlie Shotwell and Oona Roch) to an English country manor.  As a result, their relationships strain and their future becomes uncertain.  Jude Law shines with a charming veneer surface and a dark, hollow underbelly, while Carrie Coon gives an unflinching performance as his quiet, strong-willed wife.  The film also features Michael Culkin as a charismatic, and cutthroat CEO, and Anne Reid, who absolutely chewed up her on-screen moments.

THE NEST has a tense and measured pace, with elegant frames and tracking shots.  The fly-on-the-wall camerawork throughout their massive, swallowing mansion is reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic, THE SHINING (1980).  In fact, many critics have actually compared it to Kubrick’s masterpiece and it’s not hard to see why.  THE NEST witnesses the breakdown of a family after their move into an isolated, antiquated, and at times, haunting, estate.  When asked by CineFlix Daily how Durkin felt about this comparison being made, he responded with,

“[THE SHINING] was probably the most crucial moment in my childhood that planted the seed for really becoming a director.  And so I think it’s in everything, but certainly in terms of a family going to a place of isolation and their demons coming out, so to speak, it is absolutely a comparison.  But it doesn’t go anywhere near it in terms of genre or violence…  I guess you could say it’s there in the bones of it, there’s a bit of that atmosphere and influence.”

Other films that Durkin cites as influences are Alan Parker’s SHOOT THE MOON (1982), and the films of Alan Clarke.  In Kubrick’s film, the hotel was the obvious birthplace of evil; the addition of Parker’s and Clarke’s concepts of truth and honesty, however, makes it so that in Durkin’s work, the answer to that question is much more sinister and true. Alongside, comes refined cinematography by Mátyás Erdély and music composed by Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Perry, seamlessly bringing together the film’s tone and pace. 

THE NEST opens to select theatres this weekend and is definitely worth the price of admission.  Audiences won’t receive any blood or gore or jump scares, but with captivating performances from the entire cast, and a miasmatic style, audiences will face real questions about the skeletons of relationships and family, and the price of success… and failure.

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