Actor Joel Edgerton's writer/director debut The Gift is a well-crafted and relatively unusual psychological thriller that defies expectations and is driven by a trio of strong performances.
Equal parts Oldboy and The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Edgerton's The Gift claws its way under your skin and whispers its way inside your head, upending the seemingly idyllic marriage of a young, successful couple when they encounter a strange man who went to school with the husband a quarter of a century earlier. Whilst initially innocuous - and even quite generous - in his behaviour, this almost unknowingly slips into more malevolent misbehaviour, and the couple are forced to face up to past secrets and present lies. The basic premise doesn't exactly seem like new territory, but The Gift still manages to defy expectations at almost every turn, in a large part thanks to the way in which it plays with the heads of its characters, and, as a result, gets inside your head too.
With strong performances from the man behind the camera himself, Edgerton, alongside his two leads Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall - both of whom are on top form - The Gift brings the best out of its players largely thanks to well-developed characters whose backgrounds - and secrets - are kept tantalisingly quiet for as long as possible, and who are developed through keen juxtaposition of painfully teased, seemingly long-past events and ostensibly, deceptively, clear-cut present reality. Shot masterfully, Edgerton maintains supreme tension, even during a slight give-away of a time lapse, and crafts a solid, atypical psychological thriller that may not quite break the mould, nor necessarily survive repeat viewings, but that still remains distinct and memorable.
Although it largely suits the material, The Gift is certainly not a pretty picture.
Promoted on Lionsgate's Region B-locked UK release with a strong 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation, there's nothing horrendously wrong about The Gift's image quality - it's relatively stable and offers up no distinct defects which will rip you out of the intense thrills of the film - but it's still far from demo quality, with darker sequences that battle to showcase detail and feel occasionally overwhelmed by a light softness and murky quality that some might argue is in-line with the tone of the piece, but still appears to be indicative of a slightly less than impressive video presentation that's inherently plagued by variable noise. Colours are suitably drained, with no striking vibrant tones - although this may indeed be a stylistic choice - whilst black levels feel occasionally a little washed out, with crush and banding threatening to go from forgivably fleeting to plainly evident.
The audio track, whilst inherently limited by the cleverly restrained material, is hard to fault.
The Gift comes complete with a solid DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which is, technically, much harder to fault than its visual counterpart, although the minimalistic sound design simply doesn't offer up anything which could even remotely hit demo territory. For the film itself, it works a treat - with large swathes of score-less narrative, and only minimal atmospherics percolating in the surrounds and rears, whilst the dialogue takes centre-stage. This only serves to heighten the senses, and leave a greater impact for the more tense scares and strange events; to draw attention to the score when it does arise, and keep you on edge for the shocks when they come too.
Yet again the UK release loses a few extras in its trip across the pond.
Whilst we still get some Deleted Scenes, an Alternate Ending - all of which come with comments from the Writer/Director, Edgerton, as well as a selection of short 1-minute mini-Featurettes looking briefly behind the story and behind, in particular, Bateman's performance, we lose arguably the most important element - Edgerton's full-length Commentary - which is available on this release's US counterpart. Out of what's left, the only unmissable feature is the Alternate Ending which, whilst vastly inferior because it basically spoon-feeds you every single element that was carefully hinted at throughout the piece, does offer some manner of closure which the main film's enigmatic ending was - purposefully - lacking.
The Gift Blu-ray Review
Spinning your expectations and playing characters - and actors - against type and against convention, The Gift does indeed just keep on giving.
This Region B-locked UK Blu-ray is far from impressive, however, with pretty average video - not that it particularly detracts from the inherently murky tone of the piece - and good audio, but an extras selection missing arguably the most important element (a commentary from writer/director/actor Joel Edgerton) in its transition from the US. Still, for a reasonable price, it's not an unacceptable release, and it's certainly a movie that's well worth checking out.
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