This is not a horror movie, with gore and cheap jump scares, but a smart thrill. What a gift… The Gift is about a married couple, Simon and Robyn, played by Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall, who are moving into their new home and are being left presents by Gordo, played by Joel Edgerton, who is an old high school friend from Simon’s past. The movie starts off to be about the socially awkward, almost stalker-like Gordo, who is dropping by all the time, giving the couple fish, but turns into a gripping thriller about how the past can haunt people, how an idea can change a life. This is not a horror movie, with gore and cheap jump scares, but is an enthralling thriller with a smart script.
The Gift may be the product of bad marketing, but it’s the brilliant product of great writing. Joel Edgerton not only acted in the movie, but both directed and wrote it. The movie can be divided into two acts, the first part sets up the characters, the corporate driven and loving husband, Simon, the newly stay at home, Robyn, and the peculiar yet kind, but still a bit of a weirdo, Gordo. During this stage, the writing gives the audience a set of expectations for how the rest of the movie will play out. However, there is a resolution in the middle and the movie appears to be finished. After a montage of time passing, the second act brings forth a new set of questions and challenges the information the audience was presented with earlier. This two act division is similar to Gone Girl, which presented information in the first half and spun it around in the second. You remember the second act, it starts when the character literally throws a pen out the window. The ability to cast suspicion on the audience and to keep them guessing is where this script excels. It depicts the theme of how an idea can change the course of person’s life, like Inception. The notion that an idea and how the past can catch up with someone, helps to deliver a climax on par with Oldboy and Usual Suspects, where moments before the credits, gets the audience on the edge. With the script turning on itself, it begs to be rewatched with full knowledged eyes; upon second viewing the audience will realize all the little subtleties that they missed the first time around.
The three leads bring to life the script’s ability to cast doubt. Rebecca Hall’s character is adjusting to her new role of homemaker after leaving a successful practice because of the move. She gets embarrassed when Jason Bateman incidentally belittles her in front of his successful corporate colleagues. Perhaps it’s this humility she has which allows her to empathize with someone like the awkward Gordo. She asks the right questions and drives the story forward. She doesn’t fall into the bad troupe of being ignorant to her surroundings and is an overall smart and strong character. Jason Bateman doesn’t play Jason Bateman. He melts into this role, something that hasn’t been seen since Juno. He plays a loving husband and is justified in his refusal to let Gordo closer into his life. This character is driven to be as successful as possible at any costs yet is still relatable. Joel Edgerton delivers a subtle performance; his character depends on this attribute. His pushy behavior, by forcing himself into this couple’s life, is strange, but the viewer is still able to care about him. From his lack of confidence in carrying himself and mumbled speech, he brings this deceptive character to life. All three deserve praise for aiding this story to its fullest potential.
This movie’s visual style is like the couple’s new home, modern and crisp. The style choices don’t intrude on what the script is trying to say. There are no tricks, like screams or overly dark lighting (an oxymoron). It isn’t the horror movie that it’s marketed to be. It uses nice steady shots for the masked conversations, pedestal shots to reveal the new gift left at a doorstep, and other appropriate methods that make it the thriller it is. There are moments which embrace horror style elements, but by then the audience’s guard is lowered that they don’t see it coming. This does muddle the message a little, but not enough to still be enjoyable to watch. Upon rewatch, with all the secrets revealed, it was fun to notice the little visual cues that pointed the audience towards the right direction.
The Gift is a great thriller at its core, with a smart script and great performances. Gripping thrillers seem to be making a comeback with gems like Prisoners, Nightcrawler, and Gone Girl all released within the past few years. Hopefully this movie or it’s successor can become what Parnormal Activity did for the horror genre. Horror movies are becoming a safe investment for Hollywood, with little upfront cost and a safe return, they are the becoming the T-bonds for Hollywood. The Gift cost approximately $5 million and went onto to grossing over eleven times its cost. This is nothing compared to Parnormal Activity earning over $100 million on a $15,000 budget, but it is still a modest return and if more thrillers can achieve this and beyond, hopefully more great content will be delivered.
Although past its theatrical run, check out The Gift through Google or Amazon. The script gets the audience comfortable with what they know, but flips itself and challenges all preconceived notions. The messages about the past and ideas are great to see on screen. All three leads do a great job portraying their characters from the smart Hall, to the unsettling Edgerton. This movie may confuse with some of its visual style choice, but it is still very sharp and clean. Here’s hoping it brings forth more smart thrillers.