The Gift Review
The Gift that keeps on giving...
The Gift offers up plenty of reasons to avoid your high school reunion (as if you needed an excuse).Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) move across country from Chicago to Los Angeles, where Simon grew up. While out shopping the couple run into Gordo (Edgerton), an old acquaintance of Simon’s from school. After an awkward first encounter Gordo eventually ends up having dinner with the couple, and soon afterwards starts turning up at their house unannounced, bearing increasingly strange gifts and seemingly trying to befriend the couple.Simon thinks there’s something “odd” about Gordo, one of the great understatements of cinema, going on to say “I think that guy’s delusional – he thinks we’re friends”. At this point Edgerton’s got you right where he wants you; it seems as though this is all set up to be a standard tale of a nice yuppie couple stalked in their own home. Simon is openly uncomfortable around Gordo from the outset, while his wife is more tolerant and open to the sudden friendship. Eventually, something’s got to give…
There are apparent homages to classic horror and thriller films throughout (on more than one occasion Robyn showers while alone in the house à la Psycho). True, there are plenty of the token jumps and suspense-filled zoom shots here, and fans of the classic psychological thriller won’t be disappointed, but there is something more at work here, and Edgerton’s film emerges as a commentary on bullying, secrets and good old-fashioned guilt.
But where the film really shines is in its exploration of the characters and the ways in which relationships change over time. As we start to change our minds about the on-screen trio, so too do they begin to shift their perceptions of each other. Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone known for being in front of the camera, Edgerton’s direction and command of the film privileges the actors in the film (with good reason): The Gift benefits from outstanding performances from the three main cast members.
While Bateman is probably best known for comedy, he does have previous for acting a bit creepy (as the prospective dad in Juno he’s pretty hateful). Here he is perfectly cast as the almost-but-not-quite-likeable Simon, and brings his signature blend of dry humour and sharp intelligence that is often lost in his comedy efforts (hey there, Horrible Bosses). Hall is surely one of the most underrated actresses of her generation, and perfectly captures Robyn’s deep-seated sorrow, her lingering fear and her all-consuming worry as she tries to work out if it’s ‘Gordo the Weirdo’ or her own husband who can’t be trusted.
The best thing about The Gift is the way it indulges and then rejects genre conventions.
That being said, the star of the show has got to be triple threat Joel Edgerton. In his hands Gordo becomes a seemingly timid and yet completely creepy stranger, lingering at the edge of the action but colouring all of it. Knowing this is an Edgerton film somehow makes his performance more complete, and where other actors have failed to make a successful transition behind the camera – Ryan Gosling a recent notorious example – Edgerton’s direction oozes class and keeps the audience pleasantly unnerved for the duration.
Pretty much all the elements of filmmaking work in harmony here: casting is spot on, the sound design is full of suspenseful bass-notes, Eduard Grau’s beautiful cinematography captures the narrative’s shift perfectly as it slips from sleek and shiny lines to dark and shadowy shots, and Edgerton’s script keeps the action ticking over at just the right speed to draw out suspense.
All in all, this is a compelling and original thriller that manages to both honour and stand apart from some of the best of cinema’s creep and thriller offerings. It’s a long, slow burn, and is well worth watching for the performances of the three main players alone.
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