VOD film review: The Nest (aka The Bewailing)
Body (snatching) horror8
A parasitic psychological subtext8
A domestic infestation of ambiguity8
Anton Bitel | On 19, Aug 2021
Director: James Suttles
Cast: Sarah Navrati, Maple Suttles, Kevin Patrick Murphy, Dee Wallace, Drez Ryan
Where to watch The Nest online in the UK: Prime Video (Buy/Rent)
The family at the centre of James Suttles’ The Nest is dysfunctional – which is to say that it is like most families. School teacher Beth (Sarah Navrati) may love her young daughter Meg (Maple Suttles) more than anything, but the emergency Caesarean that she had when giving birth to Meg led Beth to become addicted to painkillers and to go off the rails, so that Beth’s husband, Jack (Kevin Patrick Murphy), and their young daughter almost lost her forever. Still bearing the stigma of being a bad mother, Beth is now in recovery, and trying to rebuild her family life – but her career (and the income that came with it) is gone, her relationship with long-suffering Jack remains fragile, and Meg has developed separation anxiety, clinging to her mother like a leech.
If this sounds like the typical material for a domestic drama, it is also apparent, right from the opening sequence, that The Nest is going to fall into the horror genre. For the film opens with Meg being given a hand-me-down teddy bear at a yard sale by a creepy guy whose family, hidden away inside the house, have become grotesquely infested with something insectiform. This parasite, it will quickly turn out, is hiding in the teddy bear – dubbed Ricky by Meg – and will, like the baby xenomorph in Ridley Scott’s Alien, burst from Ricky’s belly to take over first Meg, and then the rest of her family, one by one, with the confused Beth being kept in reserve till such time as she is mysteriously “ready”, and left wondering why her loved ones are behaving so strangely around her. That these include Beth’s aunt, Marissa, played by genre queen Dee Wallace, only underlines the film’s family connection to horror.
While The Nest is quick to let us know roughly where it is headed, it only gradually fills in the details, generating real tension from our unfamiliarity with the precise nature of its Body Snatchers scenario. This slow build leaves the viewer plenty of time to notice the accumulating indicators of an alternative, more psychologically grounded reading of what is going on: that Beth is, like her daughter, succumbing to what Meg’s teacher Mr Ashe Taylor (Drez Ryan) calls “the worry monster” and the grip of mental illness. After all, Beth is still getting over a recent breakdown, has regular vivid nightmares involving the teddy bear and invasive black fluids, is back on painkillers after an accidental head injury, keeps seeing things, and has a prominent Caesarean scar on her belly – the ground zero of all her anxieties – which is uncannily similar to the parasite’s mode of egress from the bear.
On this reading, the disturbed, damaged Beth becomes alienated from her own family and falls prey to a variant of Capgras syndrome – until she finally finds a way to surrender to her delusions and become the perfect nurturing mother she has always wanted to be. In other words, it remains entirely possible that this creature-featuring body horror has really been a domestic psychodrama all along. Working from Jennifer Trudrung’s screenplay, Suttles plays it both ways, while leaving it unclear which of these co-existing interpretations is the host, and which the parasite.
It remains for the viewer to decide whether Meg has acquired a hereditary psychosis from her mother, or whether she herself is passing on an insidious nesting bug to Beth. In either case, mother and daughter’s disorder is transferrable, and is spreading – like a madness or an infestation – to other households. One might even see it as a monstrous metaphor for the opioid crisis that has not only ruined Beth and her family, but continues to plague America.
This review was originally published during GrimmFest May Madness 2021