In Sean Durkin’s The Nest, Jude Law and Carrie Coon play a well-to-do New York couple who decide to take advantage of increased privatization to move back to the United Kingdom. In fact, “they” decide might be inaccurate. Law’s character, Rory, a financial wheeler-and-dealer of some kind, more or less makes the decision himself based on his unwavering conviction that the world is designed for the constantly upwardly-mobile. He rents out an enormous home for his family (which also includes his teenage stepdaughter and the couple’s preteen son) and gets to work, hoping against all hopes that he will be able to bend the U.K.’s new financial rules to his advantage. While he hobnobs and brags of a pied-à-terre, he completely ignores the fact that his family is miserable and their money is running out.
“I chose to set it in 1986 because that was the year of the Big Bang,” explains Durkin. “There was a lot of deregulation in England in the ’80s and things that were previously run by the government became private. There was this sense that everything was up for sale and part of that was that it was the first time international companies could come and trade in the London market. A lot of bigger American companies were buying up London firms to make these megapower trading companies, which is the norm today. I was really interested in that to get a glimpse of what life in these smaller companies was like just days before the big change, and also Rory as a representation of a Brit abroad chasing the American dream and coming back home. I just wanted him to embody the get-rich, aspirational drive that’s behind all of it.”
The Nest looks and feels like a horror movie — one of those slowest and lowest of burns — but there’s nothing outwardly horrific about the film, unless you count the ever-looming spectre of capitalism. Suffice to say that, while financial troubles are certainly the source of high drama in real life, they’re fairly uncommon on the silver screen.
“I think that’s why I made it!” laughs Durkin. “What I want from movies is how to not find the easiest answer, the easiest piece of plot, or whatever. It’s about trying to dig into something that’s more daily, but still trying to create a cinematic experience out of it. It’s absolutely a driving factor in what I want to create and what I tried to create here.”
The house becomes a true symbol of the family’s state: a large, mostly empty vessel in which everyone always seems to be alone. Durkin gives the house the superficial qualities of a haunted house without ever leaning into that metaphor, which eventually leads to that ever-popular shortcut “the house is a character in itself.
“I wanted to create the values that they are chasing in the movie to be haunting — to be their undoing,” says Durkin. “And for that to be this capitalist American dream that probably isn’t even there. I wanted to use a genre atmosphere to embody the truth of what it would’ve been to be in that family — to have the isolation and unsettled feelings of genre films that I love so much, and put it in a really naturalistic family drama. I think the genre elements are truthful to the emotional experience, and I wanted to really blend them. That’s a tricky sell for people. I just felt it was the right thing to do for this. In terms of finding the house, I wanted to find a place that had that feeling — that kind of creepiness and eeriness, and also that was too big. You aren’t sure who is in the house with you at any given time. We also needed something that wasn’t so big that it was a castle. That would have been so far-fetched — you have to kind of be, ‘What the hell are they doing?’ without thinking their choices are certifiably insane.
“Some of the houses that we looked at were literally small castles,” he continues. “We wanted to find something that had some warmth to it, that had potential as a home, but far beyond your average large English country home. It was a tricky balance but we saw just about everything that was available a few hours from London. Some of it was tricky because the house would look great on the outside but then you’d get inside and there was just… no space. No hallways, just a series of rooms. I wanted something where you could see through open doors, you could always see into the next room. I wanted to create the sense that no matter what Allison does, she can’t close up the house and make it safe.”
Another interesting aspect of the house in The Nest, with its cavernous walls, applies to the music, specifically the diegetic, in-world music rather than the score (by Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry). Whenever the teenage daughter listens to music (the Cure, Hüsker Dü), we hear a watery, distorted version of it that adds to the ominous discomfort of the story.
“I spent much of my childhood making mixtapes off the radio,” says Durkin. “That was the only way to be able to replay the music I wanted to play. I lived with my stereo with a tape cued up to get whatever song I wanted to get. That was a really crucial part of her character, of her alone in her room. Playing everything out of her stereo was the first step of that. We would get the songs on tape and play them off the tape while we shot. I’m very obsessive about those textures and making sure in the mix that they sound as they would — not surround, not big movie sound. I wouldn’t be against that if it fit with the movie, of course, but for this movie, being in the room with them, hearing it how they hear it, is the way to go.” ■
The Nest opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Sept. 18. For more about The Nest, click here. Watch the trailer below:
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