By Leah Greenblatt
September 18, 2020 at 07:00 AM EDT
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IFC Films

What's the opposite of domestic bliss? Filmmaker Sean Durkin spends nearly two chilling, surpassingly elegant hours not quite answering that question in The Nest, his fever-dream exploration of one family's unraveling featuring Jude Law and Carrie Coon.

It's the go-go '80s, and Law's Rory looks like the poster boy for yuppie prosperity with his Mercedes sedan, espresso machine, and general master-of-the-universe air. His American wife, Allison (The Leftovers' Coon), a cool blonde who teaches horse-riding part time, seems a little more down to earth, even in her jodhpurs; when Rory tells her he has a new job opportunity in London, her immediate, incredulous response is "Go f— yourself."

But soon enough they're off, two mildly shell-shocked offspring — her teenage daughter (Oona Roche) from an earlier marriage, and the younger boy the couple shares (Charlie Shotwell) — in tow. Their new home in the English countryside turns out to be less a house than an estate; the kind of imposing, aristocratic pile a Brönte sister wouldn't say no to haunting. (Though Led Zeppelin once recorded an album here, Rory would like them all to know.)

Allison swiftly gets her own horse, a beautiful obsidian-colored stallion, and the kids try to settle into their new schools; there are business dinners and cocktail parties to attend, maybe even new friends. The house is oddly unwelcoming, though, a place of cold corners and odd doors. And Rory has his own strange angles, none of them particularly oriented toward the truth.

Durkin captures it all with a sort of menacing restraint, building a deeply disquieting mood from long, almost voyeuristic shots and loaded gazes. (The soundtrack, too, is an era-appropriate trip). Is he giving us gothic romance, domestic drama, existential horror?

All the above, perhaps, and also none; The Nest is only his second film, following the 2011 Sundance sensation Martha Marcy May Marlene, and you could easily spend the next decade trying to decode its themes. But it's enough, almost, just to watch him linger on the formidable Coon rage-smoking a cigarette, a force as seductive and inscrutable as the story she's in. B+

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