Synopsis – 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.
My Take – Advertised as yet another version of Fatal Attraction, which this film clearly is not! This directorial debut by Joel Edgerton (Zero Dark Thirty, Warrior, Black Mass) is more of a Hitchcockian thriller. Despite the glowing reviews, I went into the film with medium expectations & came out delighted! Kudos to director / actor Joel Edgerton for doing a bang up job! This is honestly one of the best scripts of the year! The major player in both the direction and the writing is that no serious violence was portrayed in any scene in this movie but yet it manages to crawl under your skin and linger long after the movie’s over. This is partly thanks to the excellent cinematography by Eduard Grau. This is a thriller that will leave an imprint on its viewers for a long time for more reasons than its rich cinematography and expertly paced narrative. It’s the kind of film that gets one to look introspectively at the wrongs they’ve committed, in this case, in school, where perhaps a rumor you helped spread, or even started, went on to scar the victim for life. Perhaps if you helped spread said rumor, you’ve moved on, but what if the person you hurt hasn’t forgotten the pain and torment your little white lie caused? The unfurls gorgeously into a story which can’t be predicted at first. It breathes on a little suspense that coils around the question ‘Why’? Then as we progress halfway, things become a little clearer and the why gets answered. You see the true face of perversion there, and suddenly your heart brims up with sympathy. The film will work best the less you know about it. The psychological thriller aspects never devolve into the slasher fest we have come to expect from such kind of films. Instead the film blurs the lines between good guys and bad guys. In fact, it brings into debate what makes a good person. It even states “you may be through with the past, but the past isn’t through with you”. Do our past misdeeds ever totally fade? What about high school bullies, do they mature? Can the proverbial zebra change its stripes? All of these questions and themes are touched.
The plot is not quite intricate exactly, a little predictable when you see the end coming. But it is gorgeously wrapped under the threads of a thriller. It is very nicely written and eases quite brilliantly into the “Bullying” waters, an issue that still prevails in the society and the hunter in us never gives a damn. The film is all about one big bad vengeance, which skims a little horror as it progresses. The story follows married couple Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) who move in to a suburban neighborhood in LA from Chicago, they run into Gordo (Joel Edgerton), who Simon knew back in school. Things seem pleasant in this reunion. At first, a dinner conversation makes things a little more awkward for Simon. How come? Things seem alright, Gordo may have table manners or dinner-speak that’s a little off-kilter, but only in small, subtle ways. What’s really going on with Simon’s immediate animosity? Well, it could have to do with the ‘gifts’ that Gordo leaves for this couple, which Robyn sees on the doorstep when she comes home from her run. Or, when Simon rejects the friendship of Gordo, how that turns back on them. So, ties get cut, and something still seems ‘off’, but now for Robyn. Especially with a letter from Gordo saying to Simon ‘I wish there could’ve been bygones be bygones’ to that effect. What does this mean? Whereas the first act was about Gordo playing the typical psycho stalker, Edgerton reserves the second act for unraveling just who Simon is – and as you may expect, the answers are less than savory. Peeling back the affable charm on Simon’s surface, we are led to discover someone else altogether, so much so that we are forced to re-examine our sympathies for the man in the first place, and by extension, our contempt for Gordo’s apparent sociopathic behavior. Edgerton tells the story from Robyn’s perspective, not only because she is as much in the dark about the man she married as us, but also for the fact that, as Simon’s facade falls apart, she alone becomes the emotional core of the story and the only one we end up rooting for. Hats off to Joel Edgerton for his big debut as a fully-fledged director. Not only is his direction outstanding, but it is also better than most of the directors out there. His frames have an order, have the right amount of focus and they complement the score quiet beautifully. It’s hard to talk about the film without dipping into too many spoilers, but in the short of it, it’s fairly safe to say Joel Edgerton has one of the most exciting directorial debuts in the past few years. It may not be perfect (one or two jump scares is still one or two too many, mostly in a work like this surrounding those moments), but what Edgerton shows is a a knowledge of conventions and, most crucially, the ability and skill to subvert them and make something we thought we knew about the characters into something else. What it turns out is that there’s been a history between Simon and Gordo, and it’s these secrets and lies, and the personalities of both Simon and Gordo, that make the film so immediate and compelling and truly harrowing. It’s basically a three-character piece, though there are supporting players plus a sub-plot (maybe only developed so far as to make Simon look even less sympathetic) involving problems and scandal at work, and it ultimately comes down as a showdown between Simon and Gordo. Edgerton‘s script is extremely smart in how it turns what could be just stalker-of-a-couple junk and makes it into, well, an anti-bullying movie. Only instead of the characters being adolescents or kids or teens or whatever, it’s the effects of this many years down the line, as adults.
The only more undeserved genre for moviegoers besides serious adult comedies/dramas or immersing fantasies are the classic thriller. The last truly marvelous, slick thriller that graced cinemas nationwide was “Prisoners,” an unnerving mystery revolving around the kidnapping of two young girls, with one father going to desperate lengths to find them. Since then, marginally passable films like “No Good Deed” have stumbled into theaters but never left the kind of imprint on audiences that has them genuinely consumed with fear and uncertainty thanks to the slickness of a film. Edgerton‘s craft here is something to really marvel at. Serving as the writer, director, and co-producer, the film is essentially his playground and, in turn, he creates a thrilling fun house of Hitchcockian principles and truly absorbing fear. Drenched in dingy, saturated cinematography, casting a moody light on nearly every scene. The eeriness is very even and understated, and the fright aspect sneaks up on you like the potentially deeper meaning of a kind neighbor’s gesture. This is a beautiful film in terms of its look and feel, constantly feeling like its toying with your emotions. Sure, there are some great twists, including one that goes further than I ever expected this film to go, but never is there that one moment where every ostensibly implausible thing occurs that effectively derails the entire project in terms of tone and pacing. The film remains consistent in creating a feeling of dread, even when the tables turn and the protagonist and antagonist lines are blurred. Rebecca Hall gives a strong performance & holds her own despite not being the lead. As good as she was, Bateman and Edgerton are brilliant. Bateman doesn’t get enough credit for his acting ability. Sure he pretty much does the same role in comedies, but the odd times he undertakes a serious one, the guy shows what he is capable of. His character had a lot of depth and he presented it to great effect in this movie. Joel Edgerton, however, has the real challenging role – playing a guy who can look sweet and nimble, almost neighborly, but also a bit off and maybe even a little unstable. Edgerton‘s blank facial expressions find ways to be amiable, despite his behavior being increasingly troubling, almost too kind, and the character he creates for himself is one you struggle to find exactly what’s bad about him when “too nice” doesn’t seem to cut it. On the whole, ‘The Gift’ is a well-crafted gripping twisted psychological thriller that also marks a fine film making debut for Joel Edgerton. Give it a watch!
Director – Joel Edgerton
Rated – R
Run Time – 108 minutes