Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton
Married couple Simon (Bateman) and Robyn (Hall) move back to Los Angeles due to Simon’s promotion, where they unexpectedly encounter Gordo (Edgerton), an acquaintance from Simon’s past. Gordo Appears friendly and helpful at first, but as he keeps on leaving mysterious gifts for the couple, their lives are sent into a tailspin and bring about shocking revelations about all involved.
The Gift is indeed a hard film to describe and also review, as to go into too much detail would reveal too much, but too say very little feels like doing this excellent film a disservice. It also seems from the very start that writer/ director Joel Edgerton knows this and intentionally plays with this fact. The Gift does have the misfortune of having “from the makers of Insidious, Sinister and The Purge”, on its generic looking poster which also does this film a disservice as it is far more intelligent and genuinely thrilling than those middle of the road, generic and lazy films.
From the start it is obvious Edgerton is very much in control of his film both in terms of the purposeful and very deliberate pace, and also the visuals. We start by being introduced to a young couple purchasing a house shown through a camera that pans painfully slowly, creating the obvious sense of dread that accompanies most films where a couple move into a house that has something wrong with it. It is not a spoiler to say there is nothing wrong with the house and The Gift is most definitely not that film (thank God!), but it demonstrates from the off that Edgerton is making his film with assured confidence and is happy to knowingly play with genres and tease the audience.
There are indeed several occasions where The Gift switches genres, which could easily come across as gimmicky if done badly, or if delivered with the smugness and complacency of a film like The Cabin in the Woods. However Edgerton gets the balance just right; he depicts both the film’s plot and its revelations in a purposefully measured way. For a character based and driven thriller of this kind we have to engage with characters involved and we are constantly given clues and new revelations about the characters involved gradually, which makes the film only more engaging and suspenseful. Once again the pace is measured without being too slow and explanations offered gradually and nothing ever over explained. The Gift is not only an intelligently made film, but also and more crucially it respects the intelligence of the viewer.
As the plot progresses, Edgerton remains in complete control of his film as the camera still remains effectively static and the use of sound is also effectively minimal; The Gift is not a film that ever needs to rely unnecessary on fancy camerawork, editing or sound effects, just simply great storytelling. As Edgerton purposefully gives us new tantalising snippets of information The Gift only becomes more engaging as it plays with genre tropes and is happy to pull the rug from beneath our feet. The main characters are also asked pertinent and relatable questions of themselves and those they thought they knew, especially Rebecca Hall’s character. Too say anymore would spoil it for others, but Edgerton impressively keeps this high standard right until the film’s equally satisfying, haunting and unforgettable conclusion (even though it may, possibly by accident, resemble the ending to similar Spanish film from a few years ago – to say what film may be a spoiler, but those who have seen both films will know what I am talking about. Clue: a review of it can be found on my blog in the ‘World Cinema section’).
The performances too are predominantly strong; Jason Bateman has looked like he really cannot be bothered in some of the recent lame comedies he has turned up in and it is refreshing to see him actually having a go at acting again. As the film develops it proves that not only his performance is excellent, but the decision to cast him is very effective. Though he is writer and director, Edgerton plays a supporting role, but is excellent in it. His cold eyes, awkward body language and slow dialogue delivery could have easily become pure caricature, but Edgerton makes it effective without ever being too excessive.
The story is essentially told through the eyes of Rebecca Hall’s Robyn as we discover the revelations with her, but though she does often capture the exasperation that Robyn must experience from what she both experiences and discovers in a decent way, she is sometimes lacking the edge or intensity that her character needs. A better performance or better actress may have made the film even better, but thanks to the expert execution of the film an adequate performance is enough.
Of course certain plot developments do take slight liberties and rely on coincidence, as well as a slight suspension of belief, but there is no denying that from start to finish The Gift is a deeply gripping psychological thriller and shows that Edgerton has as much talent when it comes to being behind the camera as he does in front of it.
An assured and confident directorial debut; Joel Edgerton’s feature length directorial debut shows true knowhow for delivering genuine edge of your seat thrills through effective and measured subtlety as well as an element of playfulness. That rare thing in mainstream cinema; a psychological thriller that grips from the start until its haunting finish.