The Nest is a film I’ve been excited about watching for a while. It’s directed by Sean Durkin, whose arthouse movie Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011), about a girl having escaped from and trying to recover from immersion in a cult, effectively helped launch the career of the mesmerizing Elizabeth Olson and is one of my favourite indies. The Nest is a slicker, bigger budget affair but the psychological menace reappears in its own distinct way. Instead of the claustrophobia of a cult cut up into non-linear reflections and refractions as in Martha Macy May Marlene, we have a trans-Atlantic crossing from an idyllic U.S. setting into a Gothic fairytale. The film transposes us and the family in the film to a mansion in a brooding English countryside, and its fragmentary, isolating impact operates to the destabilizing backdrop of the late 1980s of the Thatcher-Reagan years. Capitalism and heteronormativity intertwine to strangle a seemingly happy family: the husband Rory, played by Jude Law, is increasingly revealed as a bullshitter and a bluffer whose self-esteem comes from being the ostentatious provider for his family; the wife Allison, played brilliantly by Carrie Coon, provides the Female Gaze and participative witness trying to keep it together as things begin to fall apart. The strains of violins increasingly signify a family pushed to breaking point, but also the illusory quality of a marriage exposed for its transactional nature, in a Thatcherite world where transactions are rarely to be trusted.
I took the atmospheric, cracked mirror vibe with me when I left the cinema. Stepping out into warm sunshine, I craved the shaded sanctuary of my home and wanted no one to look at me: I can’t remember ever feeling such dysphoria after a film before. I’ve missed visiting the cinema these past few years, I realize, with much of my transitioning previouslyt taking place in dark auditoriums while I fixed vampire-like on flows of empathy to help make sense of my upheaval. Yet watching a film by an indie director is also a dangerous game, it seems, when you’re empathizing with the perpetrators and victims of a sham social order, and I left their world to one that hardly seems more stable.