* * * * 1/2
Sean Durkin’s The Nest is the first great movie of 2021. A relationship drama anchored by incredible performances from Carrie Coon and Jude Law, it left me devastated, wrecked, and thoroughly sated. It puts you (and its characters) through the ringer; once the credits roll, a tight hundred and seven minutes after the evocative first shot, you’ve been through something. You’ve been through a lot.
That first shot is precise and revealing. It’s a slow zoom out from the window of a house. Combined with the ominous score and even the font of the title card, Durkin is using the cinematic language of horror, and specifically 70s horror. The cinematography has a grainy texture to it – it looks like film – and the mood is malevolent.
As it turns out, we’re in the 80s, although that is revealed gradually, and not, strictly, in a horror film. But Durkin returns to that zoom five or six times, almost always framing a window or house, and his intentions are very clear. Horror can reside in the house, and our own family can be the cause of our greatest pain.
Coon and Law play a married couple, with two kids, who move from a comfortable-seeming house somewhere in the US to a huge, rambling, spooky-yet-beautiful manor house in Surry, outside of London. Law’s character Rory is returning to his roots and to working with an old colleague (the awesome Michael Culkin) at his City trading firm; Coon’s Allison works with horses, and the intention is for her to set up her own professional stables on the grounds. It is a move prompted by Rory’s hyperactive ambition, and it will be the family’s curse.
I was in total, seat-gripping suspense for pretty much the whole third act of this superbly crafted film. It all gels: a perfect screenplay, incredibly evocative cinematography (the dull grey British afternoon skies evoke such a precise feeling), the period design, the sublime acting, and that superbly forbidding score (by Richard Reed Parry). Durkin showed huge promise with his debut feature, Martha Marcy May Marlene, back in 2011; that he now offers his second, a quiet masterpiece, in 2021, shows the value of taking your time and doing things right.