'Brothers' Nest' Is A Merciless Australian Thriller Cut From Coen Brothers Cloth [SXSW]

There's no such thing as the perfect crime and this is doubly true in the movies. The Australian thriller Brothers' Nest is built around a seemingly perfect criminal plot that turns out to be spectacularly imperfect once a rogue element or two enter the equation. You've seen this set-up before and you've seen it before because it works. We like to watch perfect structures tumble. It's why we slow down at car accidents. And the duration of Brothers' Nest is spent watching the car slide toward catatastrophe in ultra-slow motion. We await the final impact. We know it's going to be painful. And then it is.

There's a meticulousness to Brothers' Nest that reflects the intentions and mindset of its lead character. That character is Jeff, who fakes a vacation to Sydney so he can sneak into his family's country home and await the return of his elderly stepfather. When he arrives, Jeff will murder him and stage it as a suicide. After all, his mom is dying of cancer and she's leaving everything to this guy. That's not right. Less sure of this plan is Jeff's younger brother, Terry, who follows his sibling every step of the way, his more finely tuned moral compass constantly leading him to reconsider their plans.

It's clear from frame one that Jeff has thought this one out. They arrive on bikes so there won't be suspicious cars. They wear clean suits to not leave evidence. He's shipped their phones across country so the internal GPS will have evidence of a vacation. And he has a long list of things to do, everything that has to be done to stage a perfect murder. Things that leave Terry wanting to know "Why?" Terry's not stupid, but he's not as calculating as his older brother, who comes off as a guy who watched a lot of Breaking Bad and took notes on how Walter White got away with it all. On paper, in a notebook, Jeff has designed the perfect crime. In execution, Jeff and Terry discover that things aren't so simple.

There are really two stories at work in Brothers' Nest, both of them thrilling in their own special ways. The first half of the film is deliberately slow, following the brothers as they infiltrate their family home and plan and rehearse and clean and plan and rehearse and clean. Jeff explains and re-explains their plans, doubling down the reasoning that has led him to think murder is okay: they will not be cheated out of their inheritance by a man who never loved them. Terry is not so sure. Rinse. Repeat. What could be boring is elevated by actors Clayton Jacobson (Jeff) and Shane Jacobson (Terry), actual brothers who showcase a chemistry you cannot fake. There's a brotherly tension that hangs in the air between the two actors during every scene, that familiar mixture of resentment and love: "I'm here because we share the same blood, not because I like you."

If the first half is a showcase for the Jacobsons as actors, the second half is a showcase for Clayton Jacobson, the director. Behind the camera, Jacobson reveals himself capable of staging monstrous, heinous acts with an unflinching eye. There's a talent in crating chaos, of selling a situation going from bad to worse to unforgivable, and his quiet, simple filmmaking allows the actors and the words in their mouths to shine. After watching the tower get built so carefully, it's wild to watch the blocks tumble quickly.

Brothers' Nest is a thriller cut from the Blood Simple cloth, recalling the more serious and stripped down work of Joel and Ethan Coen. It's not without its pitch black humor and a sense of brutal, unforgiving irony, but this is a film that stoops to the level of all-too-human monsters, petty people with ambitions so large that they explode, damaging everyone in the vicinity. There are no heroes and villain in this world. Just people who make forgivable mistakes and people who make unforgivable mistakes. But sometimes, it's too late for anyone, even those with second thoughts, to tape the brakes./Film Rating: 8 out of 10