How do two filmmaking siblings follow up one of the biggest Australian comedies of the 21st century? With a much bleaker slice of comic action. In the 12 years between Kenny and Brothers' Nest, Shane Jacobson hasn't been far from screens. In fact, he's graced local cinemas in the awful trio of Guardians of the Tomb, The BBQ and That's Not My Dog! just this year alone. But making another film with his brother, actor-director Clayton Jacobson, has taken much, much longer than it'd take Kenny to plumb most of the country's toilets.
While Brothers' Nest is as far removed from the Jacobsons' toilet-fixing mockumentary as you can get, it's mostly worth the wait — an attempt to meld grimy psychological thrills with black comedy that doesn't break the mould, but delivers exactly what it promises. Shane and Clayton co-star as a luckless and unhappy duo intent on securing what's rightfully theirs and willing to do whatever it takes to get it, even resorting to planning the perfect murder. Their cancer-stricken mum (Lynette Curran) is dying and, to their dismay, she's just changed her will to leave everything to their stepfather Rodger (Kim Gyngell). With the family home in country Victoria on the line, no-nonsense elder sibling Jeff (Clayton Jacobson) quickly convinces his kindlier younger brother Terry (Shane Jacobson) that homicide is the only option to reclaim their inheritance.
It's with a wry smile that Brothers' Nest begins with its titular pair cycling up to their childhood abode, donning orange jumpsuits and hospital booties, and starting to enact Jeff's meticulous plan. Visually, the picture is soaked in fog and grey, befitting a sombre mood — but the moment Jeff and Terry start preparing for their grisly task, humour cracks the grim facade. Indeed, Clayton Jacobson and writers Jaime Browne (The Mule) and Chris Pahlow manage a delicate balancing act for the first two-thirds of the film, milking the business of knocking off a family member, and dealing with deep-seeded woes, for both drama and laughs. Still, there comes a point where brothers' banter can't bring cheer to this tale, with their bickering — often sparked by Jeff's pedantic determination to stick to his detailed to-do list — only going so far as the movie veers into more tragic territory.
That said, much of the film's success stems from the Jacobsons' performances, with the pair pretending to be other, more desperate siblings. Fleshing out a fraught picture of brotherly love in the process, it's clearly not a case of art imitating life, but the authentic connection between their characters runs deeper than if the actors weren't related. For Shane, as the unsurprisingly more affable of the two, it's a more interesting and challenging big-screen role than he's had in some time, although his 'loveable larrikin' public persona softens Terry's quiet sadness. For Clayton, taking the sterner, more brittle part — and eventually, the more unhinged as well — it's a welcome reminder that his talents don't just reside behind the camera.
Wielding that lens, Clayton's efforts are effective. Viewers never forget that this is a low-budget affair, particularly given that it's confined to one setting, but many rousing thrillers have been. A hefty smattering of inventive shots catch the eye, while the short but definitely not sweet film is well-paced, with Clayton also co-editing. Sadly the supporting cast are all noticeably underused, although Curran, Gyngell and Sarah Snook each make their marks. Of course, you don't go to a dark, murderous comedy called Brothers' Nest for something other than siblings getting kill-happy, and this taut, claustrophobic account of blood, money and double-crossing does what it needs to.