Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language
Directed by: Joel Edgerton
Written by: Joel Edgerton
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Tim Griffin, Allison Tolman & Beau Knapp
Trailers can make bad movies look great and great movies look bad. Such is the world of marketing. When I saw the trailer for THE GIFT, I figured that it might be a fun little thriller, but nothing particularly special. It was Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut and though he’s demonstrated great skill in front of the camera, there were questions as to how his transition to making movies might fare. Color me shocked. Though it may resemble any generic thriller from the early 90’s, THE GIFT has something deeper, scarier, and far more profound running beneath its deceptively simple surface.
Simon and Robyn have just moved into an upscale Los Angeles house. Simon is a workaholic yuppie sort of guy, while Robyn is a much more kind and depressed individual who’s coping with a recent failed pregnancy. It seems like fate has something special in store for them when Simon bumps into former classmate Gordon. The two hit it off with an awkward, but polite conversation. The next day, the couple find that Gordon has left a present on their doorstep. The thing is that neither of them gave him their address. Gordon becomes a socially awkward friend towards Simon and Robyn, bestowing constant gifts onto them. It gets to a point where Simon decides to cut off the friendship and things get ugly. That’s all I’ll say about this thriller’s plot, because I don’t want to give away any of the nasty surprises that lie in store.
THE GIFT seems to purposely start off like a standard (but enjoyable) thriller. It’s much akin to something you’d see in the early 90’s (e.g. MALICE, HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, PACIFIC HEIGHTS, etc.). The suspenseful sense of fun lulls the viewer into a state where they think that the whole plot can be predicted in advance. It’s even complete with a couple of (effective) jump scares. Around the halfway mark is where THE GIFT begins to show that its seemingly generic set-up was actually a façade for something far scarier and more intelligent. The screenplay goes into areas you wouldn’t expect it to and approaches these plot points (and twists) with a refreshing maturity. Triple-threat Joel Edgerton (director, writer and actor) decides to take a less-is-more approach, showing only enough to tip-off the audience and never diving into over-the-top violence or exploitation.
The cast is primarily made up of three characters. Jason Bateman is usually typecast in comedies, but proves to be great in his out-of-the-ordinary dramatic role. Simon appears fairly cut-and-dried in the beginning and then layers begin to peel away as the film goes on. Rebecca Hall’s performance and character is no different. She starts as a nervous and vulnerable wife and then evolves into the moral compass of the piece. Meanwhile, Joel Edgerton stars as Gordon and knows exactly how to play the character. Though he’s socially awkward, Gordon seems like a nice guy at the start. Much like the other two character, major plot points reveal what kind of person he truly is. You’ll find yourself questioning loyalties and whose side you’re on as the running time moves forward. It’s debatable as to who is the hero or villain of this film…or if there are even such things in this grimly realistic shocker.
What should especially be applauded about Edgerton’s debut thriller is that it treats its audience with respect. While other cheap movies of this ilk might waste time spelling everything out for the viewer or throwing in last-minute clichés to tie everything up with an unneeded bow (ala the final scenes of FATAL ATTRACTION), THE GIFT doesn’t assume that you’re dumb. In this way, the script manages to stay one step ahead of you at all times. Even if you can correctly predict some twists, you’ll be shocked by other revelations. It’s all executed with classy suspense and a wonderfully diabolical ending. I guarantee that the final moments of this movie will linger in your mind and generate interesting conversations on the ride home from the theater.
THE GIFT seemed destined to be yet another generic thriller, but somehow defies all odds and resembles a modern-day Hitchcock film. This is more intelligent, thought-provoking and well-written than most of the thrillers that come out these days. It’s also one of the year’s biggest surprises and one of my favorite movies of 2015 thus far. Indeed, this film is an unexpected GIFT that’s meant to be cherished as much as it’s meant to make your skin crawl.