Quick Hit: A good thriller that turns in directions you don’t expect it to go.
A lot of thrillers these days tend to focus on a few things – extreme violence and sexuality. So when I saw that the rating for The Gift was “R”, I was expecting more of the same. However, upon closer inspection (aka after the movie), I realized the movie was only rated so due to a few “Disturbing scenes” and a few f-bombs. And frankly, you’re in for a decent thriller.
That’s because The Gift focuses on two main points – people from you past, and people you think you know but don’t. The main couple of Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) is a pretty typical couple. There are hints of marital turmoil, and signs that Simon is pretty cutthroat in business, but otherwise, everyone is normal. So when Gordo (Joel Edgerton) shows up, it seems as if we are going down a straight forward thrilling road – our normal couple being menaced by a man who is more than a little strange. It’s fun casting for Bateman, because he is allowed to play something much, much darker. The exasperation and impatience that he has so often portrayed in comedic roles now comes across as so much more… troubling. And, frightening really. We all know people with that short fuse.
But really, Edgerton is very good, which makes sense because he also wrote and directed the film. The camera often works in an easily accessible manner, frequently placed at angles you wouldn’t expect to give satisfactory images, but instead give a decent view of objects that feel (and look) like familiar surveillance. He frequently puts characters into the background of shots, and allows traditional horror to play into the film.
But, what really makes this film is how it subverts your expectations. In a way, it makes me think of the movie Hell or High Water that blurs the lines between the heroes and the villains. It’s clear that there is much more going on between Gordo and Simon than what is originally shown, and you feel your sympathies torn in different directions throughout the movie. There is one scene in particular that is difficult to watch towards the end, played in found footage video format. It’s toward the end of the film that we are reminded of the normal way these movies play out – there’s a bad guy and a good guy, and there’s no question who to root for. That’s unfortunate, because, as previously stated, up to that point it’s pretty blurred.
Overall the only thing I would have liked to see a bit more of was Robyn being her own person. All we know about her by the end of the flick is that she likes to run a lot. I would have preferred at least a small mention of how she came to be where and who she is. But, despite having the largest amount of screen time, she seems almost not to be the main character, instead ceding that to her male co-stars.
The Gift is the rare thriller that doesn’t make you see what is coming (I’m also thinking of Don’t Breathe here), and that makes it worth watching. I’m giving this one a “B”.
For more on this, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"