Real life has precious little to do with the latest frights from Blumhouse.
The demons we battle come from within, the “haunting” of a house spins out of the stresses, betrayals and failings of those who live in it.
“The Nest” is a chilly domestic melodrama bathed in the tones of horror, a tale of greed, ambition, deceit and disappointment. Anyone choosing to see it as a parable of the “greed is good” go-go ’80s can do so without stretching to make the point. And for those of us who fret that this point in time is where the Western world went wrong can find hints of that here, as well.
Built on a powerhouse, brittle break-out performance by Carrie Coon (“Gone Girl,” “The Post” and TV’s “Fargo”), it recounts the final acts in an illusion that started to dim before the opening credits and a collapse that seemed destined before the 1987 Reagan stock market crash.
Jude Law, who has been playing working-class over-reachers since his arrival on the screen, is perfectly cast as Rory, smooth as an oil slick, and about as toxic. It’s the mid-80s, and we get just a glimpse of the life he’s provided for his family in New York.
Allison (Coon) gives riding lessons and runs a stable, their son Ben (Charlie Shotwell) seems happy and her teen daughter from an earlier relationship (Oona Roche) is content, near as we can tell. You know teenagers.
But Rory drops “I think we need to move,” on “Al” first thing one morning. Allison is an independent woman, not some “trophy” he plucked out of the American working class. She gives it all away in a single line responding to that entreaty.
“Go f— yourself.”
They’ve moved “four times in ten years,” but he insists that going back to his old firm in London is “the chance to make some real money.”
Even her mother nags her to be more traditional, “just go with it,” and leave the worrying about how this will work and pay-off “to your husband.” Next thing she knows, Rory’s showing them the estate he’s rented, the place he’ll “build you a stable,” the historic nature of the place.
“Led Zeppelin, Led ZEPPELIN stared here when they recorded one of their albums!”
So the bump-in-the-night noises some of them hear are…the ghost of John Bonham? Allison hears them, and Ben? “This place scares me.”
Writer-director Sean Durkin (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”) drops little hints of horror into the proceedings. But he uses that dread-what’s-coming tone to give grim weight to the domestic tragedy that plays out.
Rory’s dismissive of Allison’s desires and quick to throw money around. The seeds of mistrust were there before they ever got on the plane. Durkin lets his camera linger on Coon the moment she has her suspicions confirmed, and Coon lets us see Allison deflate, stagger and buck up for the test ahead with just her shoulders and her eyes.
And she plays the hell out of the nasty, cutting lashing-out scenes that follow.
Rory’s boss (Michael Culkin) might tolerate his swing-for-the-fences swagger, but that doesn’t mean he”ll indulge it.
Law can still make us smell the sweating his characters do when they’re gambling, striving and hoping like hell to keep all the balls they’re juggling in the air just a few moments longer.
“I don’t see markets. I see risk, reward and money!”
The period detail — from the British synth pop to the swank restaurants that still allowed the well-heeled to light up — is spot on.
And the movie itself isn’t bad, a tad circumscribed — limited aims, truncated character arcs. The hints of something less scientifically or psychologically explicable never quite reach the point where “The Nest” feels like a cheat.
This is a living nightmare, one anyone trapped in a situation they’re helpless to remedy will recognize, with a dread anybody living beyond his or her means will feel.
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some sexuality, nudity and teen partying
Cast: Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Oona Roche, Charlie Shotwell and Michael Culkin.
Credits: Written and directed by Sean Durkin. An IFC release.
Running time: 1:47