By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
The Gift is definitely a treat for movie audiences craving a good, old fashioned, Hitchcockesque psychological thriller. Written, directed by and starring Joel Edgerton, who makes his directorial debut here, this edgy, nail-biter of a flick oozes with creepiness, builds up tension and suspense to where the audience can no longer take it, and delivers when it comes to shocks and surprises. Considering that this is Edgerton’s first movie as a director, I am certainly impressed with this debut and look forward to seeing more films by this talented filmmaker.
The movie also stars Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall as Simon and Robyn, a married couple hoping to start anew in Simon’s hometown where he manages to get a promising new job. The couple has had a bit of a rough start in their marriage, but life in a different setting offers peace and opportunity, or so they hope. While shopping for the new home, Simon and Robyn run into an old classmate of Simon’s named Gordo (Edgerton). Awkward and shy, but seemingly sweet and nice, Gordo offers Simon and Robyn his friendship and begins to give them some housewarming presents. After a few more awkward and strange meetings, and some unusual gifts, the couple begins to wonder if Gordo means any malintent. As Simon begins to act suspiciously about the whole Gordo situation, and as Gordo leaves her subtle clues about the past, Robyn begins to question what kind of person her husband really is.
Joel Edgerton, who has already collaborated with his director brother Nash on previous movies, proves that exceptional filmmaking must be in the genes. Edgerton crafts a gripping thriller that will leave audiences bewitched. Though this type of story isn’t anything original, Edgerton does effectively and beautifully build up the mystery, leaving audiences guessing and craving the truth behind the creepy events taking place before their eyes. When it comes to the reveal, the film delivers a punch to gut, but still leaves some mystery unsolved. I really like this approach, because it continues to mess with my mind as I think about the unresolved elements. Much like reality, the absolute truth doesn’t always get revealed and problems do not always get solved easily. My only complaint probably has to do with a few corny and silly moments in the film. There aren’t very many of these, but still, I found myself laughing during these scenes and I’m pretty sure they were not intended for laughs.
As a fan of Jason Bateman’s work in comedy, I was thrilled to see him tackle a much more serious and dramatic role, and he does not disappoint. In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen Bateman as a more intense and fiery character. The man has chops and it’s great to see him use them. The lovely Rebecca Hall also performs well as the troubled and slightly depressed Robyn. Hall brings a genuine and beautiful vulnerability to the character, effectively evoking empathy from the audience. Hall’s superb acting allows the audience to bond with her character and feel for her as this bizarre mystery unfolds. Not only does Joel Edgerton prove he can direct and write a top notch movie, he also delivers an outstanding and haunting performance as Gordo. As the story plays out, audiences will love him, feel sorry for him, fear him, and then totally question any emotions felt about him. His character proves to be an enigma that constantly messes with the brain.
The same can be said about this first-rate thriller that Edgerton has skillfully made. Fans of Hitchcock, Brian DePalma, David Fincher, and Park Chan-wook will absolutely love this movie. It isn’t the typical bombastic summer blockbuster, but it is a refreshing alternative to the usual material that gets released at this time. The darkness of the cinema will definitely add to the cool, dark creepiness that this movie offers. For anyone unable to catch this film theatrically (shame on you!), I highly recommend watching this at home with the lights off. Regardless of how one views it though, be prepared to discuss afterward, because this is a movie that will leave its audiences talking.