The Nest is Sean Durkin's second feature, after Martha Marcy May Marlene. That movie came out in 2011. Nine years is a long time between movies. His earlier film had a lot to recommend it, nothing more than the acting of Elizabeth Olsen and the rest of the cast. Now, with The Nest, Durkin establishes himself as an excellent director of actors, because the leads here, Jude Law and Carrie Coon, carry the film. It's not a bad film without them, but it's very good with them, and for all their talents, Durkin deserves credit for getting their best out of them.
I don't know which of the two is better. I've been a fan of Coon since The Leftovers, and she's wonderful as a wife, Allison, whose marriage isn't all it seems. Durkin pulls off an interesting trick in The Nest, in that it plays like a horror film but isn't a horror film at all. (In a mixed review, Oliver Jones wrote, "It looks like a horror movie, swims like a horror movie, and quacks like a horror movie, but it isn’t a horror movie. So then what the hell is it?") Coon has shown that she can take any role and find its core, and she wins our sympathy for her situation. This leads to that horror-movie feel ... you wait for something to happen to her, and Durkin, who also wrote the screenplay, plays on our expectations of the genre. This makes us think of Jude Law's husband Rory as the Bad Guy, and yes, Rory has his problems and they are essentially why Allison has problems. But we wait for Rory to turn evil, and this never happens, because the horror trappings are there mainly to distract us from what is ultimately a movie about a marriage and a family.
Much of the film takes place in a huge estate that is far too large for the family of four. Its empty rooms and long hallways add to the gothic feel, once again leading us to anticipate horror. And horror underlies most scenes in The Nest, especially as the film progresses, but it isn't there to provide a base for scares, but instead to place the otherwise straightforward narrative in an unsettling context.
The ending is suitably open. I thought it implied a possible reconciliation for the family, while my wife thought Rory would never change. Nonetheless, I found it charmingly on target that when the kids make breakfast (after many scenes where Rory made it), they make sure to put Pepsi on the table.