The Gift is being paraded around in advertisements as some cross between horror and thriller. In certain instances, it does carry bits of thriller-esque elements but I can say that it most certainly isn’t a horror movie. It’s more of a character study of three very different individuals whose stakes–emotionally and otherwise–in the situation are high. Joel Edgerton is pulling triple duty here: writing, directing, and starring. And while the previews may be deceiving, the film itself is solid and smartly executed.
Young married couple Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) have just moved to LA from Chicago for Simon’s job. The two have been through a lot together over the last year after losing their unborn child. So it’s a fresh start for both of them. After an awkward run-in with Gordo (Edgerton), someone Simon knew back in high school.
Immediately after, the couple find a gift at their door from Gordo, and then the man starts showing up at their house when only Robyn is home. Finding some kindness in the man, she invites him in and before long they’re having Gordo over for dinner and they continue receiving gifts, but it’s a strange relationship the three of them have with each other. Simon doesn’t like Gordo and thinks he’s weird, and so doesn’t want him around and wants to keep the past in the past but Simon doesn’t foresee anything that will happen after.
The film is able to place the right amount of initial suspicion so that all transpiring events after the first half are founded, flow naturally, and still contain some seeds of doubt. The Gift is the kind of film that you can walk away from with food for thought. the script is smart, and Edgerton is able to use prior scenes in the film and expand on them without having it feel contrived. The plot is like a bout of karma and you’ll find yourself changing your feelings about certain characters and their actions as the story progresses.
Edgerton, besides writing one hell of a story, chooses to power the plot through its characters. Without them, nothing about the film would have stood out. There are consequences, multi-layered characters, and fully realized people in this story that are being affected by everything. Edgerton’s story is very emotionally-fueled and mysterious. Most everything is largely revealed at the end, but it plays like a scavenger hunt, finding one clue at a time. The film is never slow though and the pacing of the film will keep you glued to your seat.
Jason Bateman, largely known for his comedies, is a fine dramatic actor. Bateman infuses Simon with just the right amount of charisma, anger, and a controlling nature that is slowly revealed throughout. Edgerton’s Gordo is kind, awkward, unstable, and carries a bit of the creepy factor around with him wherever he goes. His heightened tension with Bateman is like watching a standoff waiting to happen the entire time. Rebecca Hall is just as much a part of this movie as her two male co-stars. Her story is less suspicious because her intentions from the beginning are more straight forward, but she is the questioning one, constantly wanting to understand everyone’s actions. So her character works well within the scope of the movie, and she gives a good performance, although her character is the one we know least about in terms of her past history. It’s barely touched upon and implied more than it’s discovered.
The Gift is like finding a gem in a summer of mostly mediocre films. It’s character-driven, well-developed, smartly written and finely acted. The mystery isn’t slow and the film thankfully doesn’t drag its plot around for more than it should. Edgerton more than proves his worth as a director, with purposefully-placed camera shots that continuously up the tension and the feeling of something’s not right. Edgerton also doesn’t rely on flashbacks to show us what happened, which is a strong choice. The Gift is definitely a must-see addition to the summer movie slate.