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Brothers’ Nest (Sydney Film Festival)

Australian, Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Brothers’ Nest sees filmmaking siblings Shane and Clayton Jacobson reunite for the first time since the world-beating 2006 comedy, Kenny.

But this ain’t Kenny.

Anyone expecting a redux of that amiable toilet-themed flick is in for the shock of their lives. Brothers’ Nest is a pitch black noir-of-errors that could just about be termed a black comedy if you squint a bit. Comparisons have been made with the Coen brothers’ oeuvre, but Brothers’ Nest sits at the Blood Simple end of the spectrum there, rather than anywhere near Raising Arizona or The Big Lebowski. It’s grim business.

We meet our protagonists, elder brother Jason (Clayton Jacobson) and the slightly younger Terry (Shane Jacobson) as they ride bicycles through the pre-dawn light toward their remote, rural Victorian family home. Their mission: fake the suicide of their stepfather, Rodger (Kim Gyngell), and so ensure they inherit the house from their dying mother (Lynette Curran). They have all day to prepare for the murder before Rodger arrives. Jason has a checklist. Terry has serious doubts.

We spend a lot of time with Terry and Jason in their childhood home as they both lay the groundwork for their homicide and excavate their shared past, and by the time Rodger shows up we’ve got an intimate awareness of the dynamic that exists between these three men thanks to the deft script by Jaime Browne (The Mule). For all its closely observed character work, Brothers’ Nest still holds plenty of surprises, though – not the least of which is the odd burst of genuinely shocking violence.

It’s not gratuitous, though – the film is clever enough to know that meaningless violence has less impact than meaningful violence – horrible acts committed for awful but understandable reasons. The spurting claret is just one facet – the real horror comes in witnessing how these people, who know each other so intimately, turn on themselves.

Director Clayton Jacobson captures it all in an austere, chilly style that perfectly complements Jaime Browne’s writing. The overall mood is one of subtle but palpable transgression – the notion of committing a cold-blooded murder in one’s family home is an unsettling one. Effectively, Jason and Terry are strangers in their own lives, prowling past mementos and childhood artifacts in disposable coveralls while they discuss the quickest, kindest way to kill someone they’ve known since they were kids, and seeing these interchanges play out between the avuncular, all-Aussie Jacobson boys is at times deeply disquieting. The pair both turn in excellent performances, especially Shane as the increasingly conflicted Terry.

Brothers’ Nest is a prickly affair that delights in leaving the viewer off centre. It’s not quite in the same league as, say, The Interview, but it’s certainly adjacent to that singular Australian classic, both in tone and intent. That also means it’s going to be far too misanthropic for many, but if you’re open to its acidic charms, it’s one for the books.