Brothers’ Nest is a strange hybrid of grim thriller and black comedy in which the rivalry and differing values of two brothers are pushed to breaking point, with shocking results. Confronting at times, but well-plotted, with terrific performances from the Jacobson brothers.
Brothers Jeff and Terry (Clayton and Shane Jacobson respectively) plot to inherit the family country home from their terminally ill mother by faking the suicide of their step-father (Kim Gyngell), whom they see as jeopardising their inheritance. Holed up inside the house, tension builds while they await the arrival of their intended victim, and they struggle to contain their testy relationship and clashing values. When unforeseen circumstances derail their plan they are set on a tragic collision course.
Throwing characters together in a confined space is a filmmaking strategy with obvious economic advantages and plenty of potential for intense drama, but it also comes with risks. The actors have nowhere to hide, and neither, in a sense, does the screenwriter. Any performance or script flaws will be magnified. Also, confined-space dramas are typically heavy on dialogue (as is the case in Brother’s Nest). Hence, the dialogue needs to be scintillating to hold viewers, especially today, with audiences so accustomed to spectacle and action.
The dialogue here is a bit uneven, but pretty good overall, as is the screenplay generally. I had a few niggles, though. There are some instances of clunky exposition. A bigger deal, though, is the shonky premise, which doesn’t hold water for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, as dysfunctional as the brothers are, they’re not unintelligent. It beggars belief that they could seriously entertain their downright stupid faked suicide plan, let alone act on it. Secondly, logistics aside, while the mastermind of the plan, Jeff, has the rationalisation capacity of a psychopath, it’s hard to accept that he would have been able to persuade Terry, a basically decent bloke, to go along with him. Sure, Jeff is the dominant, manipulative older sibling, but the murder of their step-father, who turns out to be a nice old guy, would surely have been too hard a sell.
On the credit side, the story is strong and well-resolved, brought home with jolting impact (perhaps too jolting for some). And while the brothers’ respective psychologies aren’t perhaps as complex as they might be, the interactions between them are well managed, serving both characterisation and narrative functions.
The Jacobson boys are terrific, turning in convincing performances as they tap into sibling dynamics that ring true.
In the hours of building tension that elapse while they await the arrival of their stepfather, reminiscences of their lives in the family home and childhood resentments bubble to the surface, along with differing perceptions of their parents. As things start to go wrong and their plan unravels, the pressure cooker environment strips both characters to their cores.
The setting moves outdoors for the final reckoning, and the humour dries up as dialogue gives way to action.
Tonally, the film straddles a tightwire; it’s a strange and dramatically risky hybrid of grim thriller and black comedy. Mostly it works, but some viewers are going to recoil from its more confronting parts.
Don’t write Brothers’ Nest off as just another nasty Aussie thriller, though (which are a dime a dozen, frankly, and overpriced at that). This is a superior breed of that sub-category that has drawn comparison to the Coen brothers (dunno about that, personally) and, deservedly I think, attracted favourable attention at some notable indie film festivals.
Movie Website: http://www.brothersnest.com/
Australian release date: Brothers’ Nest in Australian cinemas from June 21, 2018
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