The Gift (2015)

Dare you look inside?

This film is good. Really good. It’s wicked, smart and tense. So tense, you’ll be on the edge of your sheet for most of the film’s 1hr 50min running time. Few contemporary Hollywood films are able to hook in an audience so quickly, so subtly, and keep them gripped to the end credits. Belonging to the ‘thriller’ genre this film (written directed and starring Joel Edgerton) it manages to avoid all the perils of a bad thriller movie. Typically films of this genre are set up with a chunk of exposition, a boring and obvious way of introducing character and story. With ‘The Gift’ Egerton totally avoids this hurdle, instead he sprinkles exposition into dialogue. Twists and turns are set up in a way that it is only once they happen that you realise they were even set up in the first place. Not once does the film dip in tension or give any hints on what will happen next. If you’ve seen the trailer and thought you’d seen it all, you really haven’t!

Robin (Rebecca Hall) and Simon (Jason Batman) move from Chicago to California, to an area not far from Simon’s hometown. When shopping for new home supplies the pair are approached by ‘Gordo’ (Joel Edgerton) who identifies himself as being an old school friend of Simon’s. Gordo quickly establishes himself in their lives, dropping off gifts and making surprise visits at their home. Although Robin seems happy enough to maintain contact with the ‘socially awkward’ Gordo, Simon grows uneasy with Gordo’s behaviour and decides to ‘break-up’ with him and ends their friendship. Gordo does not let this go easily and continues to have a hold over the pair. Secrets from the past swiftly and menacingly threaten to ruin their seemingly idealistic life.

This film is both modern yet welcomingly old-fashioned. Its plot and pacing align it with Hitchcockian storytelling. The fact that much of the film focuses on Robin’s perspective is a throwback to the Gothics of the 1940s. Her doubts over Gordo, and as a result doubts about her husband, are never overblown or ‘too’ melodramatic but rooted in a degree of realism and with complete sympathy. What could be a one dimensional role is instead fully rounded with Hall’s nuances, her subtle discomfort apparent yet carefully and gradually revealed. Bateman is equally as good, barely recognizable in a role that goes far beyond type. All too often taking the role of fraught and downtrodden father figure, he places the role of Simon with ease as he carefully navigates the fine lien between charming and douchebaggery. Whilst we are swift to become uncertain of Gordo’s intent, we soon realise that we know just as little about Simon. His interactions with both Robin and Gordo remain intriguing and frequently unsettling from start to finish.

 But it is Edgerton who remains the star here, portraying the oddest and most secretive of the three leads. Often films like this will signpost, practically with flashing neon lights, what will happen next and who we can trust. Within his script, cinematography and characterisation Edgerton doesn’t do this. All of these dimensions are far too complex for that, refusing to let the viewer rest on their laurels or take a breather. Nothing is certain in this cinematic universe; no-one can be trusted.

A surprise of a movie, engrossing and unpredictable in equal measure. This is a fantastic directorial debut, a tense psycho-thriller and well worth seeing.

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