UK Release Date: 7th August 2015
Runtime: 108 minutes
Director: Joel Edgerton
Writer: Joel Edgerton
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Jason Bateman, Joel Edgerton, Tim Griffin, Allison Tolman
Synopsis: A high-flying suburban couple find themselves in the midst of an awkward, overly intense friendship, when an old schoolfriend returns to their lives with a flurry of odd gifts.
A few months ago, I was at the cinema when a very different trailer began to play. Rather than another noisy preview for a big blockbuster, this was an intriguing setup for a psychological thriller called The Gift – the directorial debut of actor Joel Edgerton. The film has finally arrived and it’s every bit as darkly inventive as its teaser suggested.
Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) relocate to a big suburban home in LA as a result of Simon’s job. During a trip to a homeware store, they run into Gordo (Edgerton), who is an old classmate of Simon’s. In the next few weeks, Gordo repeatedly delivers gifts to the couple, but Simon worries that the man, known at school as “the weirdo”, is getting a little too obsessed with his wife.
The Gift is an exquisite example of a horror-thriller that picks the moments to deliver its shocks absolutely perfectly. The story is delivered as a measured drip-feed, maintaining the enigma of the characters until as late as possible. This slow burn creates a stomach-tightening knot of tension that never loosens throughout the film’s running time.
| "You think you’re done with the past, but the past is not done with you."
In his debut directorial gig, Edgerton proves adept at building and sustaining suspense and enigma. Films that refuse to play their hand can prove frustrating, but The Gift manages to sustain its intrigue all of the way through, right up until its conclusion, which is a shocking, nasty gut punch that is utterly impossible to see coming. Edgerton uses the open, glass-sided house at the centre of the narrative to great effect, but is also keen to subvert the horror film expectation of easy jump shocks.
Edgerton is helped by the intense quality of the three central performances, including his own. Bateman does a stellar job of portraying a clean-cut career man with darkness lurking beneath the surface and Hall is nothing short of terrific as the everywoman dealing with far more below the surface than the film ever tells us about. Edgerton himself is a presence within the whole movie, even when he is absent from the screen, thanks to his portrayal of Gordo – an enigma who is somehow both menacing and sympathetic.
It’s almost impossible to talk about The Gift without revealing the myriad twists and turns of its final third. There’s plenty hidden under the hood of the movie and it’s teased out to great effect by Edgerton’s script, which judges its revelations in such a way that the audience’s sympathy switches with almost every scene. It’s a tortuous emotional ride that is just nasty enough.
| "Kids are honest."
Even before its grotesquely inventive final twist, The Gift is a thriller with a real dark heart. It earns its mean streak with impressive tension building and a couple of genuinely shocking jolts of horror. As a calling card for a directorial career, this is about as good as it gets for Joel Edgerton.
Pop or Poop?
Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut is one of the best thrillers of 2015, with a mean streak a mile wide and a dense plot that plays its hand in a way that gets the maximum amount tension from the premise.
The three central performances are uniformly excellent, with each character subverting the kind of clichés that too often fill genre pictures.
The Gift is a film more interested in the complexity below the surface than the archetypes people fit into and speaks to the ways in which the “winners” of high school do not always continue their success in the real world.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.