by Melissa Parkin
With a new job lined up, married couple Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) relocate from Chicago to Los Angeles with the hopes of finding a fresh start. The pair returns to Simon’s hometown and settles in with the purchase of a swanky house in the Hollywood Hills to start a family. A chance encounter with Simon’s old and rather peculiar high school classmate, Gordo (Joel Edgerton), threatens to spoil their idyllic lifestyle however after he goes out of his way to welcome the happy couple to their new home. Robyn sees past Gordo’s awkwardness and finds a kindred spirit in him. Gordo begins leaving the couple numerous presents and even visits Robyn to lend her a helping hand while Simon’s away at work. Things take an unsettling turn though after Simon voices his concerns, insisting that he and Robyn need to sever ties with the oddball.
Having been introduced to the slew of run-of-the-mill thrillers this year, including The Perfect Guy and The Boy Next Door, it’s impossible not to go into The Gift thinking that it’ll be another regurgitated slop of clichés. Modern-day cinema thrives on gratuitous content, and this genre is no exception with its exploits of sex, nudity, violence, and gore. So imagine my surprise of finding out that The Gift is rated R…only for language. Even in the gilded age of top-notch thrillers like Cape Fear and Fatal Attraction, drastic age-sensitive content was required to effectively tell the story. So how does a film like this one hold up without any of the obvious flash and slash?
Joel Edgerton proves that he’s a force to be reckoned with, having written, produced, and starred in his full-length directorial debut. The Gift expertly takes its time peeling away its many layers with brilliant subtlety, unnerving its audiences and urging them to the edge of their seats before leading into a stunning, tailspin climax. Subverting from the clichés and conventions we all know too well from the genre, The Gift is essentially a character-driven chamber piece thriller that relies only on its masterfully crafted storytelling and superb cast.
And what a cast it is.
With antagonists commonly portrayed in thrillers nowadays as always being hyper aggressive and in-your-face, it’s a breath of fresh air to see Edgerton dial down and play the role with perfectly devised restraint and sensitivity, making his character someone that audiences can oddly empathize with. Even in spite of his subtle demeanor, he’s still the film’s scene-stealer, and that’s not an easy feat by any means. Best known for his comedic chops in projects like Horrible Bosses and Arrested Development, Jason Bateman steps outside of his comfort zone and delivers his most versatile and effective performance since 2007’s Juno, proving he’s more than a one-trick pony. And as far as Rebecca Hall is concerned, it continues to amaze me why she isn’t on Hollywood’s A-list. She hasn’t worked with acclaimed directors like Christopher Nolan, Woody Allen, and Ben Affleck just because she’s another pretty face. The character of Robyn, with her struggles of past demons, personal loss, and social insecurities, is undoubtedly complex. It takes a true talent to portray these depths, and with the service of Edgerton’s writing and direction, Hall’s performance appears so natural and effortless.
The Gift teases us with the conventions of the thriller genre and flips it all on its head at just the right moments. As soon as the audience feels they know where the story is going, it lurches in the other direction. The characters’ personas strip away as the story arc progresses, overturning the stereotypical roles of protective husband, tentative housewife, and creepy outsider into something truly authentic. The cinematography is beautiful, the direction perfectly executed, and the foreboding atmosphere never ceases with slow-burning tension from start to finish. It’s a polished piece that knows exactly what it’s doing and never falters or goes astray from its objective. The storyline resonates within the viewer, leaving a lasting impression that will inarguably make us all reflect on past experiences. Joel Edgerton delivers a poignant psychological thriller unlike anything put to film in recent history, proving that The Gift is indeed a gift that will keep on giving.
The Gift: 4 ½ out of 5 Stars