By: Trevor Jeffery
The Gift isn’t an exception to the notion that suspense-thrillers lose substantial value on subsequent viewings, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be one hell of a ride the first time through.
Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) seek a fresh start in California, not far from where Simon grew up. An old high school acquaintance, Gordon (still going by his high school nickname, Gordo) (Joel Edgerton) approaches Simon and Robin in a store and subsequently nudges himself into their life. After a couple weeks of aggressive friendship (showing up unannounced, spontaneous and extravagant gift giving), Simon actively ends the relationship, resulting in less-friendly visits from Gordo, and revealing to Robyn that Simon isn’t all that stand-up himself.
The Gift is a thrill, but not through exceptional direction. The story is what will draw you in, teasing morsels of plot points at perfect intervals – enough to keep you invested, but still hungry. It seeps into darkness at a pace that doesn’t fully weigh in until you pull back and take a look at the whole, and realize the film is being increasingly hostile toward you as a viewer.
That’s not to say that doesn’t have good direction – bad direction wouldn’t be able to sustain the tense atmosphere that The Gift lays in each scene. But, the adequacy of it would have nothing to hide from with an inferior story.
The film navigates through a predictable narrative by taking the alternate route – there’s more to it than “guy from past shows up and proves nice guy isn’t the nice guy he seemed to be.” What sets The Gift above other such features is that writer/director Joel Edgerton recognized the malleability of that trope and formed it into something familiar, but different enough to be disconcerting – a sort of “uncanny valley” for plot lines, and not unlike the portrayal of his character, Gordo.
Jason Bateman surprises with a change of setting, from his usual comedic homestead. His performance style doesn’t vary much from his work over the past decade, but it in a context relying on him to be unnerving, it translates well to suit the needs of the film – a mix between distrust and disgust while still demanding (and getting) sympathy. Rebecca Hall’s warmth and charm on camera creates an empathic entry point to the film – one where you can feel safe along with her, until the rug is ripped out from under and you feel just as terrified and violated.
The Gift is a tense, unapologetic thriller for those who are bored with thrillers. See this one, and you’ll have a reignited hope for the genre.
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