Little did I know but soon enough would I find out that this change in our lives was surfing along the waves of their marital discord, and this exciting apartment within months would prove our little family unit's destruction. My most vivid memories of this place now, looking back, are of two things -- one, of a man knocking on the door telling us he'd just run over my dog; and two, of my father having his first massive seizure there, sitting in his favorite chair.
My father found out he had epilepsy that night in the middle of a fight with my mother about an affair he was having -- he said everything went black, and he simply remembered none of it. I do. I remember my mother shielding my eyes as I was led downstairs past him, an ambulance lighting the walls and windows, my father frozen mannequin-like in that chair, his eyes rolled up into his head, his tongue stuck out. His seizures, when they came, always seemed like a joke he was playing, a funny face he was making, until not.
We only lived in that apartment for a few months but it's a space I've been wandering in my brain ever since -- I know its wood paneling and carpets, the peephole in the front door, as well as I do anyplace in my life. It's saturated with black meaning -- I remember it dark, unmoving, my father frozen in his chair and the wall of mirrors staring back at me as I tried, and failed, to sleep those few nights. Whether you believe in ghosts or not places really are haunted in this world, in their way -- I wonder whoever lives there now, when a board creaks, do they know it's me walking past?
Things seem pretty fine when Rory (Jude Law) and Allison (Carrie Coon) pick up and carry their kids Ben and Samantha (Charlie Shotwell and Oona Roche) across the ocean, from Allison's hometown in smooth 80s suburbia to his side of the pond, jolly ol', nary a sun in sight. He's got big plans, bigger dreams, and promises so immense they get their own zipcode, starting with the stately manor he moves them into -- rent to own, a motto that will be everybody's undoing.
Once they're there the house, way too big for four or fourteen people, seems to offer nothing but questions without answers down its endless stone hallways -- this house stares back at them, incredulously. Nobody could belong here, but certainly not these folks, although they strive until their fingernails snap against its surfaces trying to get there. But like the twenty-foot wooden 16th century table that's trapped in the house's den, it's unmoved -- this house was there before them and they know, they all sense, it will be there long after. It makes no room for them, no accommodation.
And via its cold shoulder everything else begins to crumble -- this impossible place drips water into their cracks and works on splitting them open from the inside, one little shift after another. It becomes more evident that Rory isn't Samantha's natural father in this place -- he'll only pay for his biological son's fancy education, for one. Rifts become maws, everybody isolated to their separate wings, all while Rory chases the ghosts of the manor born around, noticing nothing in his panic to make this place his, to make it obey. To belong.
The Nest isn't as darkly unsettling as Durkin's former feature, 2011's cult fright Martha Marcy May Marlene, but he still knows his way around symphonizing an oppressive atmosphere and The Nest has that in spades. The film's gorgeous, with its heavy stone and dark woods, an idyllic autumnal dream -- the words "autumn" versus "fall" are actually absentmindedly debated at one point -- of fabrics and sconces and cozy sweaters that begin to strangle. It's stuffy but warm, like two still-satisfied moments before you realize the chimney's blocked. The horses are triumphant glorious and magical beasts, until they fall over.
The last act has some of the sweep of The Ice Storm -- of a family's separate threads knotting together into mountingly terrifying ways; tragedy burns behind every expensive candle. And if The Nest never quite reaches Ang Lee's lofty heights overall (and spoiler alert, it never quite does) it does have one thing as good as any of that going for it, and that's Carrie Coon. Marvelous Carrie Coon. At a certain point The Nest becomes her show and anybody who's ever watched her in anything before knows that's no slight pleasure -- watch Carrie Coon dance, and smoke, and scream, the movie! Uhh, gladly. Twice!