Jude Law gives a career-best performance as a flailing businessman in Sean Durkin's disquieting family drama, set in 1980s England
If there’s a single lesson that horror movies have taught us over the years, it’s that we should never consider moving to an abandoned mansion. And while The Nest, director Sean Durkin’s excellent sophomore feature, can't quite be described as a horror of any kind, it does share the same disquieting DNA as his 2011 debut Martha Marcy May Marlene.
That film charted a woman's attempt to reintegrate with society after fleeing a cult, and in many ways, The Nest works as a blackly comic companion piece, an account of a businessman’s failing attempts at forging a cult of personality in order to close deals and maintain the respect of his family.
That man is Rory O’Hara (Jude Law), an equities and commodities trader living an idyllic upper middle class life in New York. Sensing there is more money to be made elsewhere, he abruptly tells his wife Allison (Carrie Coon) that he will be moving the family over to his native England, where he senses a major investment opportunity on the horizon.
They relocate to a grand mansion in Surrey, where he already has their futures figured out, starting with building his wife some stables in the imposing grounds. But just as they’re beginning to adapt to the new normal, Rory’s attempts at profiteering from an agriculture business fall flat, leaving him flailing and desperate to keep the family afloat.
Law’s performance is, without hyperbole, the strongest work of his entire career. Rory is a man so desperate to convince others of his importance, be they potential business partners or actual family members, that he turns every social situation into a pitch. He becomes an estate agent when showing his children around their new home (“Led Zeppelin once stayed here!”), and treats a meeting with his estranged mother as if it were a job interview, clamouring for the respect that has clearly eluded him.
The 1980s setting, and references to the deregulation of British industries, ensure The Nest is hardly subtle in its satirisation of Thatcherism, yet Law’s performance helps elevate it to something more tragic and less didactic.
Although much of the film’s comedy does lie in just how on the nose it is as a criticism of late-stage capitalism (a later plot point quite literally involves a dead horse), Durkin is too intelligent a writer to let this overwhelm the central family drama. The Nest manages to succeed on both levels, weaving together the personal and the political to create one of the best films about the Thatcher era.
The Nest is showing at the Sundance Film Festival London 2021 from 31 July. It will be released in UK cinemas on 27 August.Where to watch