Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
Seasoned Ticket 114
I won’t review this movie just yet, but I highly recommend Collective, a Romanian documentary that will grip you from the first five minutes and, as they say, not let go. It’s about the aftermath of a fatal fire at a Bucharest nightclub in 2015, and the corruption exposed in the process. The film “plays” this weekend at the Romanian Film Festival in Seattle, including a live Q&A with the director on Saturday night; it also plays in a revenue-sharing partnership with SIFF right here.
Meanwhile, a new one from the director of Martha Marcy May Marlene.
Our 2020 subject for Scarecrow Academy, the online discussion series presented by Scarecrow Video, is “The Art in Horror: Horror and the Director.” In talking deeply about the horror film (it’s been great, you should join us), we have occasionally asked the question: What would this film be like if you took out the horror/supernatural element? The answer is usually: still pretty messed up. Horrific, even.
One of the intriguing things about Sean Durkin’s The Nest is the way it presents a test case for this idea. It plays almost exactly like a horror film without the supernatural monsters. The set-up certainly has spooky possibilities: In the mid-1980s, a family re-locates from the U.S. to England so that husband Rory (Jude Law) can resume his high-paying work in the world of business, or money, or whatever those people do. He rents a fancy old estate in Surrey, where Rory’s wife Allison (Carrie Coon) can build a stable for her horses; they have two children, teenager Samantha (Oona Roche), from Allison’s previous marriage, and Ben (Charlie Shotwell), both of whom think the new place is creepy.
Durkin and cinematographer Mátyás Erdély (he shot Son of Saul) depict the house as a ripe place for haunting; the music by Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry helps, too. Despite some curious occurrences, however, this story remains firmly reality-based. And the reality is bad enough. The marriage creaks under the weight of Rory’s rapacious ambitions and Allison’s dismay, and the kids manifest the anxieties in their behavior. Pretty messed up.
What The Nest resembles more than anything is a short story (or maybe a novella) in which slight shifts in behavior, and little revelations, take the place of plot. In that mode, Durkin relies on the tiniest bits of business, from the sexist language of Rory’s world to throwaway details that reveal character—the camera lingering for a moment on the plain white-bread sandwich assembled by Rory’s mother, played by Anne Reid, when he visits her. That visit is typical of the film’s discretion; it’s never spelled out why Rory goes to see her after years of non-contact, but we can infer that it has something to do with his need for money. During their conversation he shows her a photograph of his family that leaves out his adopted daughter, one more example of his tendency to omit information in an attempt to control his life.
Law and Coon are excellent, and Oona Roche delivers lines with an unfiltered authenticity. Also terrific is Michael Culkin, as Rory’s old-school boss, an experienced killer. In fact, everything is top-notch in this film, which maybe contributes to the sense that The Nest is just a little too perfectly executed somehow. Even those unexplained details are so precise they make the film’s world that much more of a closed loop. When Allison breaks away from Rory for a night and goes to a London club to drain a couple of vodka tonics, we get the idea of her liberating moves on the dance floor, yet even this is so frozen within the film’s formal design that the gesture registers more as concept than breakthrough. The Nest is finely-tuned and burnished, and finally airless—a thoroughly admirable film that does not seem to breathe.
Robert Horton is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.