Take a large serving of The Others, throw in a few pinches of The Village and add a dash or two of the 2018 art house critical darling Happy as Lazarro, and you’ll wind up with something close to The Nest (Il Nido).
Far from original, yet intriguing and well-realized enough to keep you in your seat until the final, rather predictable, reveal, Italian director Roberto De Feo’s debut feature premiered in Locarno’s Piazze Grande section and seems like a decent candidate for streaming services beyond the boot.
Written by De Feo, Lucio Besana and Margherita Ferri, the script follows a rural family living in another epoch or perhaps in some kind of parallel universe. Dominated by the heartless matriarch Elena (Francesca Cavallin), who’s willing to go to sadistic lengths to protect her crippled son, Samuel (Justin Alexander Korovkin), from the dangers of the outside world, the Villa dei Laghi is at once dystopic and bucolic — a beautiful country estate under vicious authoritarian rule.
In the film’s opening kicker, we see a younger Samuel being kidnapped from the manor by his father, Riccardo. The two get in an accident, leaving dad dead and Samuel handicapped for life. Why exactly they were fleeing is a question that hangs over most of the movie, as do other anomalies, such as the fact that in this seemingly 1960s setting, somebody manages to sneak in an iPod loaded with songs by The Pixies.
Not unlike Alice Rohrwacher’s Lazarro, which featured agrarian peasants living in a time warp imposed upon them by landowners, The Nest depicts an affluent clan cut off from the rest of Italy for reasons held back until the last scene. It definitely keep us guessing — though anyone who’s watched a horror film in the last decade will probably guess right on the first try — and mildly interested in this disturbing household, which includes a doctor (Maurizio Lombardi) who looks like an evil Buster Keaton and administers shock treatment, as well as other tortures, at will.
De Feo, who previously directed a handful of well-received shorts, shows a firm grip on the mise-en-scene — although it can also be a heavy-handed one, with Teho Teardo’s score striking too many ominous notes and a style that works too hard to be scary. But Emanuele Pasquet’s photography is a nice addition, capturing scenes in shadowy wide shots, while Francesca Bocca’s production design makes the most of the sinister mansion, which is all polished oak, drawn curtains and horrid wallpaper.
When, toward the end of the first act, a beautiful teenager named Denise (the promising Ginevra Francesconi) shows up at the villa, it’s clear from the way Samuel looks at her that she will be his and his family’s unraveling. The love story between the two kids is hard to buy, and feels more like a scenaristic device than the real thing, but it does its job in propelling Samuel to start questioning his surroundings and Elena to take increasingly desperate measures to keep her son protected.
Is The Nest simply about a mamma who doesn’t want her figlio to grow up and, well, leave the nest, or is there something much more dire behind Elena’s actions? That’s what we keep asking ourselves throughout the movie, and although that doesn’t make for the most original of horror flicks, it results in a convincingly eerie depiction of motherly love taken to the next level.
Production company: Colorado Film
Cast: Francesca Cavallin, Ginevra Francesconi, Justin Alexander Korovkin, Maurizio Lombardi
Director: Roberto De Feo
Screenwriters: Lucio Besana, Margherita Ferri, Roberto De Feo, from a story by Roberto De Feo
Producers: Maurizio Totti, Alessandro Usai
Director of photography: Emanuele Pasquet
Production designer: Francesca Bocca
Costume designer: Cristina Audisio
Editor: Luca Gasparini
Composer: Teho Teardo
Casting directors: Valeria Miranda, Giulia Appolloni
Venue: Locarno Film Festival (Piazza Grande: Crazy Midnight)
Sales: True Colours Glorious Films