Chicago-based underground cinema whizkid James Fotopoulos (who, at age 27, has created more than 90 films and videos of varying lengths) offers up a bleak and cryptically funny assault on suburban anomie in his latest, “The Nest.” An independent exercise in every sense of that oft-misapplied term, proudly noncommercial pic will receive most of its exposure on the fest and cinematheque circuits, where Fotopoulos is amassing a loyal following. (Two of his prior features, “Christabel” and “Families,” were featured in the 2004 Whitney Biennial.)
Following some establishing shots of a foggy Midwestern expanse strongly reminiscent of helmer’s short, “The Hemispheres,” “The Nest” settles on a dimly lit middle-class apartment that seems like an Ikea nightmare of modular furniture and torchiere lamps.
Therein, a man (Corey Damien) and woman (Allison Jenks), presumably husband and wife, enact a series of nearly silent, drearily domestic bits of business.
To call these spouses unhappy would be to read too much into their expressionless demeanor. They get ready for work, arrive home from a day at the office, go to bed. On those few occasions when they do speak, their words seep out in short, monosyllabic trickles, as though they were the talking dead.
Fotopoulos offers plot-hungry viewers a few narrative crumbs. The couple may be the subject of some sort of surveillance operation being conducted by shadowy government types in ski masks and camouflage couture. At some point in the recent past, they may even have been involved in a traffic accident involving mysterious, crystalline rock fragments — which has perhaps led to the surveillance.
So, as in many Jacques Rivette films, the whiff of some ever-present conspiracy hangs over “The Nest.” But, naturally, viewers expecting anything resembling a tidy conclusion would do best to look elsewhere.
Fotopoulos creeps around the edges of character and drama, conjuring moods of paranoia and dread that suggest the carefully ordered routines of daily life are a kind of opiate administered by sinister forces. Shooting in harsh 16mm color, Fotopoulos renders “The Nest” in a typically Spartan, forbidding style that makes it seem as though he is some extraterrestrial visitor photographing humans for the first time, interrupted only by pockets of crude, stick-figure animation and intricately layered superimpositions.
Fittingly, soundtrack eschews a conventional musical score in favor of industrial sounds that form their own kind of whirring, grating symphony.