THE NEST (2020)

September 17, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. I’m not sure how to officially protest, but this is writer-director Sean Durkin’s first feature film since the excellent and thought-provoking MARCY MARTHA MAY MARLENE in 2011.  Okay, he directed a TV mini-series (“Southcliffe”) in that span, but there really should be some kind of ordinance mandating (or at least pleading with) Mr. Durkin to share his art more frequently. His approach is not conventional, and it challenges the eye and mind. The story doesn’t move at the pace we’ve come to expect, and the characters – though quite believable – don’t always act the way we expect.

Jude Law stars as Rory O’Hara, a business man with big dreams … dreams far bigger than his work ethic. Carrie Coon (“Fargo”, GONE GIRL) co-stars as his wife Allison. This husband and wife couldn’t be more different. Where Rory is the big-talking blow-hard who, Allison is the down-to-earth horse trainer. Oona Roche plays teenage daughter Samantha, and Charlie Shotwell (CAPTAIN FANTASTIC, 2016) is the younger Benjamin. Durkin does a nice job with the family set-up in the first few minutes of the film. We get a sense of each, as well as the family dynamics. There is a great shot of Rory sitting idly at his desk, and soon after he wakes up Allison with a cup of coffee and the announcement that they need to move to London.

The film is set in the 1980’s (the Reagan-Thatcher era), and Rory’s desperation to prove his business acumen is on full display when he meets his old (now new again) boss Arthur (Michael Culkin). Rory is a social climber, intent on keeping up with the Joneses (or whatever they’re called in London), and he’s referred to as “Old British – New American”. He takes it as a compliment, but we soon witness Rory as little more than a fast-talking salesman. A restaurant scene featuring Allison, Rory, and his co-worker Steve (Adeel Akhtar) is brilliantly played, as Rory’s professional life begins to unravel at a pace matching that of his family life.

We see each of the family members cut loose in their own way, in an attempt to deal with the strain. Timid Benjamin lashes out at school. Samantha throws a wild bash at the family home. Allison guzzles gin and lets go on the dance floor. Speaking of the family home – it’s an old mansion that is the loudest symbol of Rory’s stretch to impress. The film seems to tease us a couple of time in regards to possible paranormal activity within the home, but that’s simply Durkin’s misdirection. The only thing rotten or haunted is the make-up of the family. Their domestic dysfunction is horror in its own right.

Rory’s delusions of grandeur and worshipping of money are finally thrown back in his face during a tremendous scene of Taxicab philosophy. When asked what he does for a living, Rory answers, “I pretend to be rich”, in what may be his only moment of clarity. Jude Law is superb as the charming guy we don’t really like, and Carrie Coon goes toe-to-toe as his polar opposite, and she’s exceptional. Mr. Durkin and cinematographer Matyas Erdely (SON OF SAUL, 2015) keep us off balance with the fascinating shots within the mansion, and startling close-ups that make a point. There is certainly no abundance of light, but this isn’t the type of family that the spotlight tends to find. It’s likely to be a divisive film not embraced by mainstream audiences, but adored by those who crave projects that are creative and different. It played Sundance prior to the pandemic, and now we have to hope we aren’t forced to wait another 9 years for the next Sean Durkin film. Although I will I have to.

In theaters and VOD September 18, 2020

watch the trailer:


MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE

August 27, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. This one has been on my radar since the Sundance Festival and all the raves about Elizabeth Olsen‘s performance. After attending a screening last evening, I find myself at a loss to adequately describe not just her stunning turn, but also this unusual film from writer/director Sean Durkin.

On the surface, this sounds like just another movie peeking inside a dreadful cult that brainwashes, and psychologically and physically abuses women, and is led by a charismatic and creepy religious style figure-head. There are many similarities to the Manson-family story of which much has been published, but Mr. Durkin takes the film in a much different and very creative direction by focusing on what happens to Martha (Olsen) AFTER she escapes the cult.

 In the Q&A, Durkin stated he did much research and found the most fascinating story to be that of a cult escapee and what she went through during her first three weeks of freedom. Martha sneaks out early one morning and places a panic call to her older sister, whom she hasn’t communicated with in two years. Settling in to the lake house with big sis and new brother-in-law, it becomes quite obvious that Martha doesn’t know how to fit in society, and has absolutely no interest in discussing her recent past.

The sister is played very well by Sarah Paulson, and her husband is Hugh Dancy (so very good in Adam). This seemingly normal yuppie couple is trying to do right by Martha, but the fits of paranoia, outbursts of anger, and societal goofs are just too much for them.

 The genius of this film is in the story telling. The cinematic toggling between today and moments of time at the cult farm house leads the viewer right into the confused mind of Martha. We don’t get much back story but it’s obvious she was “ripe” for cult world when she was chosen. We see how Patrick, the quietly charismatic leader, sings her a song and steals her heart … she wants so much to belong. We also see how she bonds with the other women at the farm house, and ends up in a frightening situation that seems to snap her out just enough to find the strength to leave. The editing of scenes between these two worlds is outstanding and serves to keep the viewer glued to the screen.

 Last year I raved about an independent film called Winter’s Bone. I chose it as one of the year’s best and it ended with some industry award recognition. I am not willing to say this film is quite at that level, but I will say that the younger sister of the Olsen twins, Elizabeth, delivers an incredible first feature film performance, and Sean Durkin deserves an audience for his first feature film as writer/director. Another bond between the two indies is that John Hawkes plays the cult leader Patrick, and Hawkes is once again captivating, just as he was in Winter’s Bone.

There will undoubtedly be some debate about whether this is cutting edge independent filmmaking or just another snooty art-house mind-messer. All I can say is, I hope the film grabs enough audience for the debate to matter … it deserves it.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you liked Winter’s Bone OR you want to see a breakout performance by Elizabeth Olsen (the most talented of the sisters).

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you struggle with methodically paced films that are designed around specific moments of insight OR your motto is “enough with the films on cults”.

watch the trailer: