Sean Durkin makes his return to film and Sundance with his latest, THE NEST (2020) after nine years with MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011). Durkin proved with his debut film about a woman’s return after escaping a cult, that he has emotional depth and insight. He pushes the notion further with his newest film, exploring the hidden lives and truths of the O’Hara’s, a family amidst breakdown after father, Rory (Jude Law), moves them from America to an English country manor, chasing after entrepreneurial success. Independent and realistic mother, Allison (Carrie Coon), tediously labors and saves to ensure her family’s well being. Amidst the distractions and illusions, their children (Oona Roch and Charlie Shotwell) face private struggles of their own.
Durkin has experienced living in each country throughout his youth and adolescence and it has certainly influenced the writing, but more than anything the film’s pace and tone are derived directly from its intricate framing and camerawork. Meanwhile his spatial sense of the swallowing estate enhances the emotional tension between his characters, to the effect that several critics have compared the film to Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING (1980). Durkin has spent the last nine years crafting and revising his script, and when combined with incredible performances, elegant cinematography, and looming music composed by Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Perry, it has resulted in a sinister and truthful psychological thriller.
CineFlix Daily had the opportunity to interview Sean Durkin and gain insights to the production and release of THE NEST and these were his thoughts:
CineFlix Daily: So you decided to set THE NEST in the 80s, which was an interesting choice. Why not set it today, especially with that concept of ‘having it all’ being really prescient, and with social media and technology being very active isolators within families?
Sean Durkin: Well, I think for that exact reason that you’re saying. I think sometimes looking at a point in time that isn’t today and seeing the comparisons is more powerful than setting something today. And so I wanted to look at some of the birth of where we are now. And I really pinpointed this moment in 1986; in England everything was being deregulated. And there was this notion that everything was up for sale, and privatization was really changing the landscape of the country. And I felt that was very linked to ‘the American dream’ and the sort of exportation of ‘the American dream,’ and wanted to have a character that embodied those places and could become the exploration of the real greed and ambition and the values that were really essential to that time, that are clearly intrinsically linked to where we are now.
CFD: There have been comparisons between THE NEST and [Stanley Kubrick’s] THE SHINING (1980), and I can see where those comparisons make sense. How does that sit with you and did any works inspire your film?
SD: Yeah… I think it’s a slightly, I’m not going to say dangerous comparison, but not actually dangerous, but just in the sense of expectation. Obviously, THE NEST doesn’t go anywhere near THE SHINING… I saw it at my friend’s house, his older brother had it and we watched it, I was thirteen. And it was the moment where I was like, ‘Oh, I understand what filmmaking is,’ it 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 obviously doesn’t go anywhere near it, in terms of genre and violence, or even close to that. So I guess, you could say in the sort of bones of it, there’s a bit of that atmosphere and influence.
You know, another big, huge influence on the film was SHOOT THE MOON [(1982)] Alan Parker film from the early 80s. I saw that when I started to write this and I’d never even heard of it. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of it. I think it’s the best family drama ever made. And so that had a huge impact on me and on the film. And also the films of Alan Clarke made a big impact on me, and a part of setting. He made a lot of films in the ‘80s in England and really captured really specific, very truthful corners of British life at the time… Although he never did anything in this realm, in terms of people or class, or it tackled very different subjects, but there was a real truth and honesty answer insight into a very specific place that I took great influence from.
CFD: You returned to Sundance with this film, after MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE and that was in 2011. So how is the process and result been for you returning to Sundance?
SD: It just amazing to go back that festival. My short film was their first feature at their digital lab. It’s just such an incredible place. I don’t know if independent film is harder now than it was- it feels it- it’s almost like it’s just becoming even more and more important as time goes on. I just love it and am so happy to be here and also, in terms of the pandemic, feel very lucky that some of us had a festival premiere and they got to have the whole team there to celebrate it and we got that moment… It was very special.
CFD: Is there anything that I haven’t addressed that you would like viewers to know?
SD: I’m someone who doesn’t even watch trailers; I don’t read reviews. When I watch a movie, I go into it maybe knowing what it’s about, like a maybe reading a logline seeing a poster, seeing an image… or something like that. So I’ll get a sense of it, but I don’t like to watch trailers, I don’t like to read reviews because I just don’t like to have any information. I like to go in completely open and just let the movie be without any comparison or expectations. And so I don’t feel comfortable saying much about the film at all. So, I would say I encourage t just watching with an openness.
It would seem that even reading this, viewers already have more information than Durkin would encourage. The film premiered at Sundance to largely positive reviews, and it would be surprising if it garnered any less after opening to select theatres this weekend. THE NEST features an incredible cast of Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Michael Culkin, Adeel Akhtar, and Anne Reid, as well as cinematography that is captivating all of its own. Durkin’s slow and tense psychological thriller will haunt its viewers’ minds afterwards, but in much deeper ways than a simple ghost story.