Very rarely does a movie affect me so much that I find myself continuously thinking about it even several days after having seen it. The Gift is one of those movies. It’s the eerily ominous antagonist who continuously stalks the protagonists that won’t get out of my head. It’s the superb acting from the three leads who all show tremendous versatility. It’s the incredible, hauntingly ambiguous ending that I keep going back to, wracking my brain for what I believe may or may not have actually happened. The Gift isn’t perfect, but it is an original, surprising take on the suspense thriller genre from first time writer/director Joel Edgerton.
The Gift centers around married couple Simon and Robyn, played by Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall respectively, who have recently moved into a new home in the suburbs of Los Angeles for Simon’s job. Things seem to be going just fine for the couple early on. Simon has a great job, they just bought this beautiful new home, and the love between Simon and Robyn feels genuine. Then Gordo shows up.
Gordo (Joel Edgerton) approaches the couple at a housewares store claiming to know Simon. It’s clear that Simon has no recollection of Gordo until he gives up his name, and the two catch up a bit. It isn’t long before you’ll start to feel uneasy whenever Gordo is on screen, as even this introduction scene is a little off-putting. Although he seemed like a nice, normal guy in their first encounter, Gordo increasingly feels “off” as he begins to leave gifts outside the front door of Simon and Robyn’s house. Neither of them ever gave Gordo their address. Then, he begins to show up unannounced while Simon is at work and Robyn is home alone. On the surface, he looks and seems like a nice enough guy, but there’s always something a little off-putting about his character whenever he’s around.
While Robyn is fine with Gordo’s attempts at being their friend and doesn’t really seem to mind his stopping by, Simon feels uneasy about Gordo trying to insert himself into their lives. Simon tells Robyn that they were never friends in high school, and that he and his friends would even pick on Gordo. They even gave him the thoughtful nickname, “Gordo the Weirdo.” Simon just wants to leave Gordo in the past and move on, and yet Robyn feels bad for Gordo. She realizes that Simon isn’t telling her the entire story of what happened between him and Gordo as teenagers. It’s obvious that something substantial happened between them, and you feel like Gordo may be trying to enact revenge for whatever took place all those years ago.
Most of the second half of the movie consists of Robyn trying to piece together what happened between Simon and Gordo. At the same time, Simon tries to keep his home life from falling apart due to Gordo’s sudden appearance in his life. This section includes a great mix of scenes that culminate in a truly surprising and amazing ending scene that should stick with viewers for a long time. Sure, The Gift feels a little long in spots, and it’s quite a slow movie that relies on a lot of build-up, but I never felt bored and quite often felt on edge and was interested in what was going to occur.
Perhaps the best part of the movie is the acting. I have to commend Joel Edgerton for being a first time director and being able to get such great performances from his amazing cast. Jason Bateman loses his usual funnyman schtick to take on an absolutely intense character in Simon. There’s a particular scene in which he and Robyn have a fight about Simon’s past, and Bateman’s range here is absolutely stellar. It’s a testament to his likeable character and Edgerton’s script that you may not know if you should be laughing with him or if you should absolutely revile him. Rebecca Hall is also great as Robyn, showing sympathy and being genuinely nice to Gordo (maybe to her own downfall), whereas Simon is cold and unforgiving.
Though both Bateman and Hall are fantastic in their roles, it’s really Edgerton who steals the show here. Edgerton keeps Gordo a hard character to read for a good amount of the movie. There’s a lot of time when he’s a nice, normal guy, interacting generously with Simon and Robyn. Still, there’s an overwhelming aura of creepiness coming off his character when he’s around. It’s hard to describe, but he feels particularly off-key in all of his scenes, like at any time he could snap or like he’s planning something awful. It’s a testament to Edgerton’s acting ability that he can make a character like Gordo so scary, though there are times when you will feel sympathetic toward him.
I must also commend Eduard Grau, the cinematographer for the movie, as he creates an uncomfortable amount of vulnerability for Simon and Robyn in their new house. The house has plenty of large windows and dark hallways, and Grau uses this to his advantage. In many of the shots, there’s a feeling that somewhere in the background, someone is watching, lurking outside, and it in turn made me feel very uneasy. This isn’t necessarily the type of scary movie you usually see in mainstream horror. The Gift doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares (though there are a few that actually worked on me), instead relying on a building of tension and suspense, and featuring a truly creepy antagonist who’s hard to predict.
The Gift basically came out of nowhere, and is now sitting pretty high on my list of favorite movies of the year. It’s likely going to be the biggest surprise movie of the year for me. Go see it. I’ll be here, waiting for whatever Joel Edgerton has coming up next.
— Michael Lane, Film Blogger