It’s the house. It must be the house.
It’s too big. Too old. Too dark. Too … distant. Yes, it does look lovely, this sprawling manor in Surrey, England. But so many doors to lock. So many windows to peer through. One never knows what might stalk, unseen, across the ancient wood floors, what evil might cross the threshold or sit at the slab-like dining table.
Life was better back in America. True, Rory was always driven, always worked too much, always wanted more. But he was always there, too—taking the kids to school; playing soccer with his son; gently waking his wife, Allison; and gently placing her morning coffee on the nightstand.
But since Rory returned to his native England—since he bought this stone monstrosity out in the English countryside—he’s changed somehow. It’s as if his very substance is being hollowed out, spoon by spoon, leaving a shell of charm and ambition and desperate lies.
Allison sees it all from the dark-paneled rooms: The unfinished stables that Rory promised her, the London flat he wants to buy, the unpaid bills, the bounced checks. He gave her a sumptuous fur coat but stopped bringing her coffee. And sometimes, he’s not there at all—gone all night, just to be gone all day.
Rory promised her that England would be a fresh start for all of them, with all the money they could want. And it’s true that on the surface, their lives would seem idyllic. Daughter Sam and son Benjamin are attending London’s best schools. Rory gave Allison a beautiful horse—the beginning, he says, of her own school, teaching the young and wealthy how to ride.
But the horse, as beautiful as he is, seems anxious. Edgy. Unhealthy somehow, in both body and mind. Teen Sam is secretly smoking and blasts her music through the house. Ten-year-old Ben has started wetting the bed again.
Everything is fine, Allison reassures her children. But is it? Her family feels like it’s pulling apart—as if corners of the house had laid claim to each of them, one corner per person. Each corner holds a family member by a rope, slowly reeling each in different directions … pulling them apart, away from each other.
And as her family frays, so does Allison’s patience. The house, it seems, plucks on the threads of her mind—pulling them out, one by one. Her moods shift like the English weather. Her anxieties rise. She notices doors opening by themselves. The shadows in the corners grow deeper. And her children wonder, secretly, whether their mother might be going just a little bit mad.
It’s the house, Allison insists. It must be the house.
[Note: Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]
The Nest takes place in the 1980s, a decade that (fairly or not) has become synonymous with unbridled capitalism and unseemly excess. And Rory has bought into the decade’s ethos with gusto.
That’s not positive, obviously. But it does form the context for the corrective message the film tries to give us.
Throughout most of the movie, Rory is all charm and superficial glam, valuing the age’s glitter over everything else. But we know that he’s bankrupt—emotionally, relationally and, in the end, literally. He’s valued the wrong things in his life. And when he invests in those things, they turn out to be as worthless as beach-front property on Mars.
Because the film is shaped as a sort of cautionary tale, we don’t see a lot of heroic behavior within Rory’s family itself. Ten-year-old Ben does his best to keep the peace and hold his family together, but he’s a pitifully small anchor in the face of such a mighty storm.
But for all its flaws, The Nest drives home what we should value: Hard work. Kindness and honesty. And, above all, family.
When Rory tells someone that he’s been “the best” sort of father—one who’s given his kids comfort and security and has “never laid a hand on them and never would”—he’s told that, really, that’s hardly something to brag about. A father should be more than just a provider. And when Rory protests that he’s a better father than the one he had, the same guy (who feels a bit like a stern, shadowy sage of sorts) says that that’s no excuse.
“We have to give our kids more than we had,” he says. “That’s life. Sort yourself out, mate. Get a job. Make a wage. You’ll be all right.”
Will he be all right? The movie’s finale is understated, inconclusive … and hopeful. And that’s all I’d like to say about it here.
As the unexpected sage I mentioned above listens to Rory complain about his life, the man asks Rory if he has children. When Rory says he that does, the man says, “Then what you going on for then? It’s the only thing that matters. The only thing we were put on this earth for. Well, that and football.”
We see St. Paul’s Cathedral in the distance. Rory is referred to as a “prodigal son.” Allison sees what seems to be an animal that passed on sometime before. Both Allison and Ben seem to be pretty freaked out by the house: We can only assume that both secretly suspect it might be haunted.
Rory and Allison have sex shortly after they move to their Surrey manor. We see them on, and in, bed together, obviously engaged in raucous intimacy that includes breast nudity. Later, we again see Allison partly undressed, wearing a pair of panties and an unbuttoned shirt that exposes her chest. She pulls the shirt closer to her as the two begin to talk about something a bit more serious.
We should note that the film seems to use Allison’s clothes as a bit of a metaphor. Those sexualized scenes convey her and Rory’s intimacy (or, at least, imagined intimacy) on other levels, too. But as Rory’s lies become more obvious and Allison sees less and less (both physically and emotionally) of the man she married, she seems to cover herself more and more in her contact with him. Even the sumptuous fur coat Rory buys Allison becomes a metaphorical instrument, too: A beautiful bit of outerwear that also pushes them apart.
We see Allison in some shoulder-baring evening wear. She goes out dancing one night, and her dance moves exude sultry loneliness. Rory fails to come home some nights. But while Allison may secretly suspect that Rory is fooling around, she doesn’t say so and the movie never indicates that he is. His mistress, if you will, is money.
Sam entertains a few of her friends, including a couple of guys, in her room while Allison’s away. When Ben’s in Sam’s room as she’s trying to do schoolwork, she suggests that he leave, saying, “Go get in bed and play with yourself.”
Allison’s horse is not at all well. He acts up when Allison rides him and whinnies pitifully in his stable at night. But one morning, the animal just lies down during a ride, clearly in pain. Allison runs to get help from a local farmer, who comes over, looks at the horse sadly and shoots it as Allison walks quickly away. (The camera focuses on Allison, not the horse, but we still see the farmer aim the rifle and pull the trigger.)
The burial, perhaps, is more jarring. A hole is dug for the animal, and we see the horse’s body in a tractor loader before it’s dumped unceremoniously into the pit. (We see the horse’s corpse again.)
We hear that Ben got into a fight with some older boys at school. Ben later tells his mother that they were bullying him.
About 45 f-words, 10 s-words and four uses (both verbal and written) of the c-word. We also hear “b–tard,” “d–n,” “h—,” “p-ss” and the British profanities “bloody” and “b—er.” Jesus’ name is abused about five times (once combined with the f-word), and God’s name is misused another nine.
Allison smokes a lot, but she’s dismayed when she discovers a number of cigarette butts on her daughter’s windowsill.
It’s just the beginning of Sam’s descent. The teen volunteers to buy “speed” for her friends and throws a massive party filled with alcohol and cigarettes and (insinuated, but not so much seen) drugs. Sam clearly is impaired by whatever she’s taking and/or drinking during the party: Her friends encourage her to down yet another glass of ill-advised booze.
Allison gets drunk that same night, too. After drinking what appears to be champagne at a swank restaurant, she storms out and heads to a local bar. She orders a Boston Tonic, finishes it in two gulps, then orders another. Later on, we see her dancing by herself, obviously intoxicated. Still later, she begins the drive home—lighting a cigarette as the headlights of oncoming cars whiz past. She later wakes up in her car, by the side of the road after either pulling over or passing out.
Rory and Allison drink wine during dinner and at parties, and Rory drinks other alcoholic beverages at times, too. Allison (trying to embarrass her husband) orders dinner for the both of them, including a bottle of white wine with the appetizers and red with the main course. When Rory insists on trying the first wine (telling the waiter that his wife doesn’t know a thing about vintages), Allison grabs the open wine bottle from the waiter and takes a swig from it.
“It’s fine,” she says with a sneer at her husband. “We’ll take it.”
Sam vomits on the floor. (We don’t see her do so, but it’s pretty obvious from the context.) Sam apparently wets his bed, hurriedly stripping the sheets off and taking of his pajama bottoms. Allison crudely tells some well-heeled diners that she has a job shoveling manure out of a farmer’s barn. We see her at work at her new job, too.
Rory lies a lot. He lies to get Allison and the family to move to England. Once there, he lies to Allison and others (and perhaps to himself, too) about how much money he’s making. His checks bounce, and he’s forced to borrow money from Allison (who keeps a stash of cash hidden away and won’t tell Rory where she keeps it). He lies about plenty of other things, too—often to make it look as if he’s more cultured and happier than he is. (He also cheats at soccer with his son and, we learn, is estranged from his own mother and brother.)
Allison lies, too, but mainly to her children. She promises that she’s happy when she’s not. She tells them that her marriage to Rory is in no danger when it is. Those denials are one of many things that play a role in her deteriorating relationship with Sam. They shout and swear at each other, treating each other pretty miserably. And Sam stops paying attention to her mother at all. (She treats Ben terribly, too, calling him a “full-blown chimp” and throws a party when she should be babysitting him. A miserable Ben spends the evening barricaded in a room.)
After Allison’s horse dies, she breaks the news to her son.
“I think he was sick, and I didn’t realize it,” she says.
The same could be said of this family. Everyone, it seems, is sick in their own ways. But their loved ones don’t notice, or ignored the signs, or pretended like crazy that they’re just not there.
While The Nest takes place in the 1980s (and seems in part to poke at the excesses and priorities of that age), the movie’s real themes are, sadly, ageless. We’re just as prone to lose sight of what our priorities should be today as we were decades ago. We’re still so keen to follow the flash instead of sticking with matters of substance. And sometimes, we look at our families and pretend everything’s fine. Because to really deal with the problems underneath would be just too hard. Too … inconvenient. We bury the truth, just like Allison buried her horse.
But the truth, like a matinee ghoul, has a way of finding its way to the surface. And if we don’t deal with the truth, it just might destroy us.
That’s the funny thing about The Nest. It makes a quick, unconvincing feint toward being a horror movie. But in the end, that’s just what it is. But the ghosts here are lies, and the monsters are ourselves.
The Nest is R-rated, and it should be. The language here is pretty terrible, and we see plenty of skin, too. But those concerns stand alongside a painful-but-worthwhile story. And while the film may have some (OK, plenty) of problematic content, it’s deeply moral, too. It voices the beauty of, and need for, things of substance: work and family, honesty and love.
When you think about how birds make their own nests, they sometimes use the strangest things to build it: Shiny tinsel or colorful thread or even wire. Birds, like people, can be attracted to glitz. The important thing for birds and people alike to remember is this: It’s not how pretty a nest is. It’s how good it is at holding what it holds.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.