Overview: When Simon and his wife Robyn move back to his hometown, an old classmate from high school begins dropping by with gifts that prove time heals nothing. STX Entertainment; 2015; Rated PG-13; 108 minutes.
Big things, small packages: Director, screenwriter, and star Joel Edgerton delivers a tightly-paced, if overly familiar thriller with The Gift. There’s nothing flashy or particularly remarkable about the direction or performances which works in the film’s favor to create a mostly believable atmosphere and plot. Edgerton frames every scene carefully, highlighting the relationships between characters, and altering their positions within the frame and their surroundings as those relationships change. As a result, every character from lead to supporting is well-defined and given their own space to operate within the borders of the film, borders that are torn down and infringed upon as the story progresses. Edgerton’s shots and his performance, along with those from Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall, go a long way in terms of giving the film weight. The kind of psycho-stalking we witness from Edgerton’s Gordo isn’t too different from what we have seen before in countless other thrillers (the trailers give away a large chunk of it), but it’s sold so well by the cast that it’s able to pass where a film with lesser actors wouldn’t. There’s an admirable attempt to balance the small scale of the film, the carefully controlled performances, and the weight of its themes, and at times The Gift seemed like it would pull it off.
What’s in the box?: If Fatal Attraction was a PSA about the danger of extramarital affairs, then The Gift is a PSA about the danger of bullying. This doesn’t short-change the suspense the film manages to build, but it’s perhaps not as weird or interesting as some may have hoped. The film doesn’t have to strain itself in its reveal of Bateman’s Simon as a bully, nor does it have to strain to create sympathy at the inherent awkwardness of the bullied Gordo. But there’s something that seems so easy and pat about these telegraphed revelations that a film that strained a little further from naturalism and closer to camp, or genuine horror, may have ultimately been more interesting, or at least more rewarding for its audience. Until we reach the twist ending, there’s nothing really wrong with the movie. It’s simply a solid version of a familiar story, threaded with story beats to make it topical for modern audiences.
It keeps on giving: The build to the film’s final twist is terrific. Savvy viewers will know where it’s going, while they hope against hopes that it doesn’t actually go there. It does. Without going into detail, it’s a twist that will make you deeply uncomfortable, filthy in a way that doesn’t lead to excited conversations with friends or serve as some sort of introspective examination. The open-ended possibility of the twist makes logical sense, but geez, this should have gone a different way, because it’s ripe for social advocacy groups to justly call into attention. While good thrillers should make its audiences feel a bit skeevy afterwards, this one is problematic and does no favors for the characters it built-up.
Overall: For two-thirds of the film, The Gift is an engaging, partly generic thriller that does more good than harm to the genre. But when it doesn’t stop in time to prevent a step too far, The Gift opens itself up to the kind of criticism it could have easily avoided. You might be shocked sure, but you won’t like the way you’ll feel afterwards.
Featured Image: STX Entertainment