The Gift (2015)

14 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

You know the setup, you saw the trailer, you’ve seen movies like this before: a seemingly mild person identifies himself/herself to an average family but soon becomes violently dangerous, resulting in a deadly battle between them. You think you might be able to guess where filmmaker-actor Joel Edgerton’s “The Gift” is going, right?

Wrong.

“The Gift” may seem like it’s going in that direction, but what you may have heard about it is certainly not the case. I’ll explain the setup before I get to what I mean by that:

Newlyweds Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall), move to a nice new place in Southern California after Simon receives a new job nearby. Soon after they settle in, they meet an old friend of Simon’s from high school: an oddball named Gordo (Joel Edgerton, who also wrote and directed the film). He wants to restart a friendship with Simon, though Simon says they were never close to begin with. But Gordo sends the couple gifts to win their friendship and even starts inserting himself in places where they don’t want him. Robyn doesn’t mind much, but Simon just wants him to go away. He lets Gordo know this in unkind terms, which results in Gordo reacting impulsively and unpredictably.

I didn’t see the film’s trailer, as most people have (and reacted negatively too, especially after actually seeing the movie), and so while I didn’t know what the trailer revealed, I did have some idea from other movies of this sort where this was going to go. Even though I was half-right, I was also…half-wrong (duh). The situation is familiar and recognizable, but when I thought I was getting one thing, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself getting another entirely. That has to do with the ways Edgerton tweaks with the story and makes it more of a story about how whatever wrong you’ve done in the past followed by the insistence not to own up to it and confess eventually will come up and ruin your life. I won’t give away how “The Gift” gets that across (and wonderfully so, I might add), but let’s just say that karma will come and get you when you least expect it.

The filmmaking involved is also impressive, with very carefully constructed execution by Edgerton. Edgerton proves himself worthy as a filmmaker and also turns in a performance that is also creepy and chilling but also strangely sympathetic when you learn more about his character. That’s all I’ll say about him.

Rebecca Hall is suitably vulnerable as a woman who doesn’t know as much about her husband’s past as she thinks she does. And speaking of her husband, Jason Bateman is perfectly cast as a person who can seem charming and likable but also slimy and apathetic, showing he has some things to hide…

The themes of “The Gift” are damage and karma. Secrets are kept from everybody, everyone is damaged in one way or another, and in some way, when the film builds to a haunting finale, the past will come back to haunt you for the rest of your life. “The Gift” works wonderfully as a dramatic thriller. I wish I could tell you more about exactly why it works, but I will leave it for you to discover its secrets for yourself, because it is worthy of checking out. It may even force you to think back to your own past and wonder if there are any secrets of your own that you should own up to…

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