“Black comedy” is a subgenre which sees that bleakest of life’s moments being utilised to provide humour. Despite the negative connotations its name invokes, many in the industry readily use the term to market their films, as has happened with this release – though it is difficult to see why.
In the early hours of the morning, two siblings – Jeff (Clayton Jacobson) and Terry (Shane Jacobson) return to their childhood home in rural Victoria with the intention of murdering their elderly stepfather Rodger (Kim Gyngell). Knowing how easily they could be linked to such a crime, Jeff has crafted the alibi of a holiday in Sydney, made a schedule for himself and Terry to rigorously follow and provided containers into which they can relieve themselves.
Jeff and Terry’s motive for the murder is to inherit the family farm, which they fear Rodger will sell once their mother (Lynette Curran) dies of cancer. Throughout the day, as they wait for Rodger to arrive at the house, the brothers roleplay how they will kill their stepfather, reminisce about their youth, squabble about their private lives and question their own sanity. As they do so, Jeff and Terry forget to keep to the schedule, which risks their plan falling apart.
Brothers’ Nest comes from the same team responsible for Kenny, a mockumentary telling of an affable Portaloo magnate – both films boast having Clayton Jacobson as director and his real-life brother Shane in the starring role. These are the only notable factors linking the two movies, for Brothers’ Nest is a far different, and lesser, experience. For one, neither of the central characters possess a shred of likeability, unlike their plumbing forebear.
The purpose of a dark comedy is to make topics that are typically regarded as off-limits or taboo humorous; on both fronts, Brothers’ Nest is a failure. Maybe it’s because this reviewer was raised on a plethora of crime-dramas or murder-mysteries, or attuned to the occasionally crude stylings of Australian comedy, but there was little material here that could be regarded as shocking or confronting – it should have dared to be bolder.
More to the point, the film just isn’t funny. Where other comedians would use one-liners, punchlines or other such gags to engage the audience, Clayton Jacobson believes that oddness is sufficient, for that is all Brothers’ Nest is: odd people in odd situations having odd conversations, with no comedic payoff whatsoever. This reviewer is one who laughs more frequently and easily than most, yet even he failed to crack a smile.
Weirdly, it is the drama, rather than the comedy, that is the strongest element of Brothers’ Nest. As the day passes, conflict only grows between Jeff and Terry, leaving the viewer tenser with every passing minute and wondering if, or how, their meticulous methods will come undone. Additionally, Clayton has gleaned a career-best performance from sibling Shane, who quite convincingly inhabits the role of a man struggling to deal with trauma.
Brothers’ Nest should have been this year’s Australian box-office sensation; instead, it’s a forgettable and rather downbeat experience that sharply contrasts with the Jacobsons’ most celebrated work. If they were judged on this film alone, one would not be giving them a second chance.