The Gift, 2015.
Written and Directed by Joel Edgerton.
Starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, David Denham, Busy Philipps, Alison Tolman, Katie Aselton, Beau Knapp and Wendell Pierce
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.
While comic book adaptations are the norm these days, another genre that continues to thrive is horror. Horror films are everywhere, whether they are through big-budget ones, cheap hand-held efforts or straight-to-DVD releases (which continue to thrive). But what we are arguably lacking is some good old-fashioned thriller-horror that makes us jump and gets inside our heads to ask: what would you do next? Thankfully, actor-writer-director Joel Edgerton has such ambitions, and his new film, The Gift, looks to fill the void.
The premise is simple enough: relocating to California to start the next chapter of their married life, Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are set upon by Simon’s old high-school friend Gordo (Joel Edgerton) who lives locally. Soon, Gordo is visiting their new home with gifts and good intentions before his frequent appearances lead Simon to suspect some more menacing, despite Robyn’s more sympathetic leanings. It isn’t long though before Simon’s fears ring true, and old secrets begin to bring out the school bully in him towards Gordo.
What strikes you first when watching The Gift is just how misleading the marketing in the lead up to the film has been, not so much in terms of the content but who has helped bring the film to the screen. Producer Jason Blum and his Blumhouse company have made their name with a certain type of horror film, whether it’s supernatural occurrences (Paranormal Activity) or possible future crime anarchy (The Purge), but The Gift is a different beast.
More akin to classic thrillers from the 90’s like The Hand That Rocks The Cradle or Misery, Joel Edgerton’s precise effort harkens back to those thrillers of twenty years ago that brought tension and suspense from both its creepy tone and claustrophobic surroundings, ones that got under your fingernails and inside your head. The Australian’s direction is excellent throughout with both a keen eye for suspense and tension, while equally proving himself a dab hand at creating beautiful looking shots (Spanish DoP Eduardo Grau also deserves massive credit, as do the composer Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans for their creepy notes). And despite some obvious thriller tropes peeking their clichéd head in from time to time, the film still stirs enough thrills.
Edgerton, who has turned heads with his more romantic performances in The Great Gatsby, is excellent as the creepy Gordo, equal parts awkward and uncomfortable, transforming himself behind wigs and goatees that would make David Brent blush. Bateman does a fine job too as Simon, combining his typically biting façade with an altogether more intimidating repertoire that boils just enough, while Hall continues her impressive climb up the Hollywood ladder with another solid performance as Robyn, despite her character’s questionable arc in the second half.
While it may fall foul to some obvious clichés and leaves many questions unanswered, The Gift is as effective and chilling a thriller as we have had over the past few years. Edgerton’s unhurried but forceful direction is the star here, and keeps the tension bubbling away throughout, ably supported by solid turns from both he and Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall and The Gift is a package well worth accepting.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★