Review: 'The Nest' and 'No Escape' - Jude Law and Carrie Coon in Top Form, and a Little Bit of Torture-Porn Lite
After 27 years of memorable work in films by Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Wong Kar-Wai, among many others, Jude Law can still surprise us. In "The Nest," he gives one of the strongest performances of his career, playing a man whose life has accumulated into a shaky edifice of lies, too many of which he has come to believe himself. Law brings subtle emotional charges to the picture without throwing off its carefully controlled tempo, and he is wonderfully well-supported by his co-star, the brilliant Carrie Coon ("The Leftovers").
"The Nest" is writer-director Sean Durkin's first movie since his well-regarded 2011 film "Martha Marcy May Marlene" (he has spent most of his time since then producing). The story is set in the mid-1980s. Rory O'Hara (Law) is an expatriate English stock trader now working on Wall Street, and his wife, Allison (Coon), an American, is raising their two children, Samantha (Oona Roche) and Benjamin (Charlie Shotwell), on a large, leafy estate. They are prosperous exurbanites -- Allison teaches horse riding to well-off local kids -- but not prosperous enough for Rory: He wants to uproot the family and return to his native London to take a new job that he says has been offered to him by his old employer, the avuncular Arthur Davis (Michael Culkin).
As is usually the case with Rory's plans, everything is not what it seems. Arthur didn't call Rory and invite him back; Rory called Arthur to ask for the job. And the job isn't really what Rory is interested in. He's actually scheming to help another company buy out Arthur's operation and turn it into a global powerhouse -- at great financial benefit to Rory, of course.
The relocation to England is agreeably compressed: After the introductory New York scenes, we simply see the family trying to settle into their new home, a way-too-big manor in the Sussex countryside, which Rory has rented for an amount of money he'd rather not discuss. Before long, Allison realizes that their bank account is running dry. Then their telephone service is turned off. Rory keeps bobbing and weaving -- there's "a huge check coming," he says. But it never materializes.
The story proceeds in a succession of rich scenes: an awkward visit to Rory's semi-estranged mother (Anne Reid), a gruesome episode with a dead horse, a heartbroken taxi ride (peak Jude Law) and a dinner party that careens completely off the rails when Allison publicly runs out of patience with her husband. ("You're so full of s---," she tells him.)
Through all of this, we can see the slow death of Allison's feelings for her husband passing wordlessly across Coon's face. It's a riveting performance, especially when Allison takes in one of Rory's latest brainstorms and offers back the response of terminally fed-up spouses throughout the ages. "You're exhausting," she tells him.
"No Escape" has the hunched and gasping air of an old-school torture-porn movie (it much resembles Eli Roth's "Hostel" films). But there's no torture! Or rather, there is torture, but you mostly don't see it -- somebody's always standing in the way when an ear gets lopped off or an arm gets severed. There's some very claustrophobic tension, and a good bit of glopping around in the guts of a fresh corpse, but generally, this movie is torture lite.
Like "Videodrome," another picture it resembles, "No Escape" has something to say about modern media -- although not enough to amount to a message, really. The protagonist is a hyper-successful vlogger named Cole (Keegan Allen of "Pretty Little Liars"). Cole has spent 10 years traveling the world in search of photogenic kicks, and he's built an audience of millions for his web series, "ERL" ("Escape Real Life"). Now he and his team -- three co-adventurers plus Cole's girlfriend, Erin (Holland Roden of "Teen Wolf") -- are flying first-class to Moscow, where a wealthy fan named Alexei (Ronen Rubinstein) has devised an evening of extreme thrills for them. (Alexei is said to be "next-level loaded," and he's the object of the movie's funniest line: "This guy is so rich that everything he does is legitimately the best.")
The venue for Alexei's big night out is an abandoned prison (or something), furnished with all the familiar horrors: an Iron Maiden, an electric chair, a rack and a Houdini-style glass cabinet with water hose hooked up. Naturally, there are also tables filled with torture implements and gore-slicked goons hulking about in black leather butcher aprons. Once each of his companions has been situated in one of the torture devices, Cole is given one hour to free them all -- while a worldwide audience of freaks and troglodytes giggle along under their rocks.
Cole's mission is exceedingly difficult, as you might imagine, but -- spoiler -- not impossible. Writer-director Will Wernick -- whose last movie was simply called "Escape Room" -- keeps the nonsense moving along, and thanks to cinematographer Jason Goodell, the movie looks a lot better than it needed to. The switcheroo ending, however, is not something that Eli Roth would've signed off on.
Kurt Loder is the film critic for Reason Online. To find out more about Kurt Loder and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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