Horror films do not have to be scary to be effective.

There doesn’t need to be scenes of bombastic violence or frightening jump scares to heighten the tension.

Sometimes the most terrifying things in cinema come from slowly built, meticulously crafted inevitability.

In that sense, writer/director Sean Durkin’s latest film is incredibly haunting, simply by focusing on a looming sense of doom in a relationship between two people who want different things out of their lives together.

The Nest is about the fracture of a marriage, the dissolution of the American dream and the suffering of individuals as they put physical and emotional distance between themselves and those around them.

British-born Rory O’Hara has been living relatively happily in New York for a decade with his wife Allison, their 10-year-old son and his teenage stepdaughter during the 1980s. Looking to make the most for himself, he persuades Allison to uproot their lives and move to a remote country manor outside of London, where the change in scenery dramatically alters the family dynamics.

Two-time Academy Award nominee Jude Law invigorates Rory with a relentless ambition that evokes the economic cynicism of Wall Street but in a film that focuses that drive as a catalyst for deep-seeded emotional trauma on everyone around him.

Law is the antithesis of demonstrative here, slow-playing the role with a chilling calmness that accentuates how the growing distance between Rory and Allison affects each of them differently.

Finally given the opportunity at a major leading role, Coon is impeccable at conveying internalized emotions through a seemingly vapid glance into nothing and the way she twists words like knives into Rory’s back is downright menacing in all the best ways.

Allison’s slow deterioration over the course of the 108-minute film is emotionally taxing on viewers who empathize with Coon’s magnetic performance and the fragility of Allison’s stability permeates the endless silence of lingering moments in Durkin’s film.

Durkin uses the O’Hara’s massive new house as a barrier to keep audiences from truly knowing these characters and to keep the family from each other. Long shots down barren hallways, lingering glances into the British countryside, a lengthy one-take introduction to the vast interior all give viewers an empty, sinking feeling about what is and what is to come for the O’Hara’s.

The way in which Durkin chooses his camera positioning and character movements are superb. In one pivotal sequence, Durkin keeps a close focus on Coon as she walks towards the frame and the background widens behind her to reveal a devastating blow to her character’s increasingly fragile psyche. Every visual moment of The Nest is intended to subtly – and occasionally overtly – frame the film within the headspace of the couple.

Cinematographer Mátyás Erdély brings viewers into the world of the film by relying on the natural elements of the setting and allowing light and dark to become active participants in the scenes. Framing one character dominating another physically by casting a shadow over them immerses the viewer in Durkin’s palette for the film, where character relationships and development are shown visually as much as they are translated from the written page.

Durkin also effectively utilizes a chilling score from composer Richard Reed Parry to drive home the dramatic tension with foreboding effect. The Nest often feels like a haunted thriller rather than the terse familial drama that it is thanks to Parry’s haunted orchestral warnings.

The Nest is far too much of an indie drama to make a major splash at next year’s Academy Awards even in spite of so many films being pushed out of contention. It should garner both leads acting nominations at the Film Independent Spirit Awards as it did last week with the Gotham Film Awards.

Easily dismissed by casual viewers as a small indie film that doesn’t do a whole lot, The Nest is a deep, artistic feature that takes care in the technical details and dramatic nuance which will resonate with fans of the lead performers and those willing to be sucked in to the slow-burn nature of this reserved, yet enthralling drama available on demand.

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