'The Nest' Review: Jude Law And Carrie Coon Star In A Smoldering Drama [Sundance 2020]

In 2011, writer/director Sean Durkin left his mark on the Sundance Film Festival with Martha Marcy May Marlene, an intense cult drama that introduced the world to Elizabeth Olsen and won Durkin the festival's U.S. Dramatic Directing Award. It's been nine years since he's made a movie, but he hasn't missed a beat. Durkin has finally returned with his second feature, The Nest, which turns his focus to money – more specifically, one man's desire for it and the chances he'll take to get it.

It's the 1980s, and the O'Hara family seem to be doing quite well for themselves. Allison (Carrie Coon) loves her job as an equestrian trainer, and ex-pat Rory (Jude Law) is a former commodities broker who appears to be a family man, bringing his wife coffee every morning in bed, making his kids lunch, and playing soccer with his son. But Rory soon uproots his family to move to London, where he fancies he can make a killing by going back to work for his old boss. The opportunity is too good, he says, and they move into a beautiful old mansion that's about ten times too big for a family of four. But Rory wants it all, and I guess if Allison and the kids also have it all, that's fine, too. He wants to provide for them, yes, but there's something deeper going on inside him. His desire for money is unquenchable. He accuses Allison of being risk-averse, but he's the exact opposite, positioning himself to make waves at his company through huge deals he tries to orchestrate, but which don't quite pan out the way he planned. They're the type of family that doesn't really talk about money, so it comes as a shock to Allison when she finds out that Rory has been bouncing checks to the contractors who are building her a stable on their massive property.

Turns out Rory is a fraud with the mentality of a gambling addict. And though the movie is set in the consumption-obsessed 1980s, the fact that he's a low-level grifter who thinks he can bullshit his way through any situation just by giving the appearance of being rich sadly rings all-too-true in 2020. (It's hard not to think about the similarities to the walking trash heap currently occupying the White House). Meanwhile, Allison's beloved horse struggles to settle in to its new surroundings, much like Allison herself. "I think he was sick and I didn't realize it," a grieving Allison says of the horse, though she could just as easily be speaking about Rory.

Law is in top form, turning up the charm during business meetings and showing signs of cracking under pressure as takes unexpected loss after unexpected loss. It's his best work in years, and the same goes for Carrie Coon, who is exceptional as Allison. She isn't some clueless wife waiting around at home; there's a devilish power dynamic at play in this relationship, and Coon imbues this character with a quiet fury that's let loose when she blows off one of Rory's fancy business dinners to dance by herself at a local bar. This low-key drama isn't the type of movie that gets memes made from it, but if it were, that dance would be the moment that goes viral. They're both fantastic throughout, but both actors also get the chance to make an impression during a late movie confrontation in which their pent-up frustrations explode into a cavalcade of revealing admissions.

Durkin and director of photography Mátyás Erdély give the film a lush, prestige horror look, and there are times when the story threatens to tip into outright horror. Is their dusty old mansion haunted? Is there someone wandering the grounds, holing up in one of the mansion's many uninhabited rooms? Or is the family just haunted by the specter of another life they could be living? The film is full of deep, spilling shadows, a rich mahogany color palette, and some beautiful grace notes, like a profile shot of Rory framed against a sunrise or a pissed-off Allison backlit by the sun as she listens to Heart's "These Dreams" on her car's radio.

The Nest is a searing, smoldering exploration of ambition, how entitlement can eat you alive from the inside, and the emptiness of life as a capitalist first and a human being second. Though I'm not fully sold on the film's ending, I still found it to be a mesmerizing parable about the dangers of obsession, and I sincerely hope it doesn't take Sean Durkin nine more years to make another movie.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10