Review: The Gift

A young married couple’s lives are thrown into a harrowing tailspin when an acquaintance from the husband’s past brings mysterious gifts and a horrifying secret to light after more than 20 years.

Do you remember an era of SINGLE WHITE FEMALE? What about PACIFIC HEIGHTS? You know I loved those films, taking the idea that you invite a guest into your home and this is what happens. So you can imagine my excitement when I saw the trailer for THE GIFT and how it echoed those amazingly good movies. And then I sat down to watch it and guess what happened?

Annoyingly this movie starts off well, a chance encounter from a stranger reunites what appears to be on the surface two old school friends yet you can tell from the off that something just isn’t right. As Gordo becomes increasingly more generous with his gifts he also becomes more eerie, turning up unexpectedly causing fear for Robyn (Hall) who at first is sympathetic to Gordos weird behaviours. We then learn all is not well and there is a secret from the past that Simon (Bateman) really does not want exposing.

So far so good? Well yes the story is there but it just doesn’t go anywhere with it, yes there is a huge twist at the end and some of Gordos behaviour is out rightly odd but it just doesn’t feel like a tense thriller or a horror movie in the slightest. In Gordo we have probably the weakest protagonist ever committed to film and you just can’t help but laugh at him rather than feel sorry for him or scared by him.

This movie frustrated the hell out of me. There was a great idea, a sound cast but in terms of its execution it was so poorly and badly done and it didn’t hit the heights that the trailer or the poster aspired to it doing. By the end I was just bored and wished for the end to come and I only stayed as I would be reviewing it. A bad movie that I would advise you to avoid at all costs.

I’m pretty much sold on any of my favourite comedy actors playing it straight. It’s interesting to see whether they can actually ‘act’, instead of hiding behind laughs. You can all breathe a sigh of relief – Jason Bateman passed, boy done good.
After a recent move, into his perfect home, perfect Bateman is loving his perfect life with his perfect wife, and everything just perfect. What could go wrong? Enter sinister estranged childhood friend…..*GASP*. In very much the same vein as The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, The Gift simmers very nicely, and begins to bubble up towards the end, but fails to make the pot overflow. Oh lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood, I enjoyed the plot (to an extent), pace and performances very much, but the pay off was nowhere near as climactic as it should have been. Stalker films are few and far between these days, and I just feel that there has been much more brought to the table in the past efforts. Joel Edgerton is fantastic as Gordo, (the name just screams weirdo right?), quietly and confidently pulling at the thread of Simon’s present (played by Jason Bateman), to reveal his dark past. Jumping between afraid and sympathetic is his initially trusting wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall – love that gal – ever since Starter For 10), playing the part convincingly. With the help of some unnerving scenes and scenarios, the journey is a good one, keeping you interested, and changing your perception of Batemans good guy image. Such is the beauty of comedy actor stepping out of their comfort zone.
This would have been a stellar effort, if not for the fact that it goes out with a whimper instead of the bang it deserves. For me, the story could have been a lot darker, there was some great material to work with, but for an audience who aren’t used to seeing what’s shown in the film (can’t say too much – spoilers), it’s perfectly fine. I hate being desensitized. Give it a watch for sure, it’s a decent little thriller, just don’t expect fireworks.

The Gift is a film you don’t want to know too much about before watching it so I will try to avoid providing too much information which may spoil the enjoyment of this taught thriller.

Written, directed by and starring Joel Edgerton (Warrior, Animal Kingdom), The Gift focuses on Simon and Robyn (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) who are moving back to Simon’s home town as he concentrates on building his, already highly successful, sales career. Simon is there to open up a new division and is looking ahead to a coveted promotion when an old acquaintance, Gordo (a superbly creepy Edgerton), bumps into him and things start to move in an unexpected direction for all of them.

The pacing of the narrative is somewhat slow but Edgerton’s direction manages to create an atmosphere which builds a tension nicely and keeps you engrossed as you continually wonder what Gordo’s intentions are. He manages to maintain this even during parts of the film where very little is actually happening and very cleverly tricks you into thinking things are constantly on the move. It is this sleight of hand which serves the plot to perfection and the premise could easily have fallen down if not handled correctly but credit to Edgerton on his debut as he served up a deliciously clever thriller which does something I’ve not seen before. Literally create tension out of nothing.

The performances are on the money and all need to be to maintain the narrative that Edgerton is delicately weaving. The Gift is very reliant on lots of pieces being pulled off flawlessly from the direction to the script and the performances. For me it didn’t quite do this but certain things caught my attention which perhaps got me watching it in a slightly different way. My advice would be don’t think too much when watching this as it may spoil the overall experience. There’s not a twist to spot as such but you could see where the plot is developing too early which could then provide a diminished return at the end. I found it didn’t spoil it much for me but it still did spoil it, just slightly.

There were a few bits which I didn’t think were necessary to the telling of the story Edgerton wanted to and actually would have left the film a little more open without, such as a side plot about a rival interviewee for the promotion. Things like this and some of the early dialogue were trying to hammer home some points a little too much rather than leave things a bit more for the audience to determine. There were some very subtle pointers towards the way Edgerton wants you to think and the film would have been served better with this as having been the way it went throughout. However there was also some heavy-handed craftsmanship of character as well which negated some of the nice subtlety. Overall this was a minor gripe and really the only one I had. And also one which others did not have at all.

For a debut this is a very assured and clever bit of filmmaking and I hope Edgerton doesn’t leave it here and gets himself back behind the camera. I very much enjoyed this one and would certainly go for a repeat viewing.

The Gift is out on DVD & Bluray now. 




51 thoughts on “Review: The Gift

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