Synopsis: A young married couple’s lives are thrown into a harrowing tailspin when an acquaintance from the husband’s past brings mysterious gifts and a horrifying secret to light after more than 20 years.
Release Date: August 7, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Mystery, Thriller
Joel Edgerton is climbing the Hollywood ladder. As an actor, he’s appeared in all sorts of stuff, some good (Warrior) and some not-so-good (The Thing). Then, he started writing, contributing story elements to last year’s surprise sleeper The Rover. Now, he’s making a play at becoming a legitimate triple threat, not only acting and writing, but making his feature directorial debut in The Gift.
The Gift begins with Simon Callem (Jason Bateman from Horrible Bosses) and his wife, Robyn (Closed Circuit‘s Rebecca Hall), moving back to his home town of Los Angeles to take a high-paying job with a successful company. As soon as they arrive, they run into Gordon Mosely (Edgerton), a high school acquaintance whom Simon, initially, does not remember. After making small talk, Simon and Robyn are able to excuse themselves, but Gordo keeps sending gifts to them at their home. Feeling obliged, Robyn convinces Simon to be nice to Gordo, but Gordo has ulterior motives for wanting to befriend the couple. It seems that Gordo has been carrying a grudge against Simon since high school, and now that Simon is back in town, he sees his chance for revenge. However, as Robyn learns more about the situation, she discovers than Simon is not as innocent as she thought he was.
The Gift is being marketed as one of the big horror movies of the summer, but it’s not really a horror movie at all. It’s more of a tense psychological thriller, but even then it doesn’t quite function on the right level. It starts out with a cool concept, albeit one that has been explored more successfully in better movies like Fatal Attraction and Cape Fear, but it ends up being way too predictable in its unpredictability. Gordo gives the Callems a bunch of Koi fish? Something’s got to happen to them later. Simon has a weird fear of monkeys? I’ll bet Gordo finds a way to exploit that. The mystery at the center of The Gift, while somewhat intriguing, is built on conveniences and contrivances that, ultimately, just don’t pay off.
About halfway through The Gift, the fact that the whole thing is a joke starts to occur to the viewer. It’s a very competently made film, with slick Hollywood production value and a first-rate cast, but it has the overall feel of a Lifetime Network movie. Over the course of the film, as the situations get more and more outrageous, the stakes never really rise for the characters. Simon and Gordo get caught in a pissing contest, carrying on with each other like they never even left high school. The biggest crisis belongs to Robyn, who is caught between the shifting antagonists of Gordo and Simon, but even her struggle seems tame and, well, ready for prime-time viewing instead of confined to the danger of a darkened movie theater.
Occasionally, over the course of my cinematic experiences, I will see a movie and initially not like it, only to change my mind after a little time has passed and, in some cases, I am afforded a second viewing. White Bird in a Blizzard was one such movie. So was Third Person. Even Enemy, which ended up being one of my favorite films of 2013, took a couple of weeks for me to digest and decide how much I loved it. The point is, The Gift feels like one of these movies to me. I may watch it again when it hits cable and love it. Heck, over the course of this writing alone I elevated its rating from one clock to two. But, on this date and at this time, I am disappointed in The Gift.
The most impressive element in The Gift is the acting. More specifically, it’s the fact that the actors are able to keep a straight face through all of the brainless melodrama of the script. The trio of Rebecca Hall, Jason Bateman, and Joel Edgerton carry the movie, and they all do a great job at selling the mediocre plot. Bateman and Hall especially have their work cut out for them, with their characters buried the deepest in the silly dialogue and situations, but they both manage to give impressive performances. Edgerton plays a good creepy guy, not quite as effective as Glenn Close’s Alex in Fatal Attraction, but his character is much more sympathetic than she is and he is able to inject that element into his performance. Really, all that separates The Gift from a classic ABC Movie of the Week is the quality of the cast. In some parts of the story, Bateman, Hall, and Edgerton deserve a lot of credit for just not busting out laughing.
The Gift doesn’t quite live up to the hype that surrounds it in regards to how scary it is. Basically, it’s not very scary, despite what the producers may want you to think. The situation itself is scary, and Joel Edgerton plays an effective villain, but the fear pot only simmers, never really boiling over into any real terror. The Gift is comparable to Fatal Attraction in theme and content, but not in shock value; as much as Gordo tries, he never delivers a symbolic dead rabbit to the Callems. The last act does include some really unsettling stuff, but even that is a case of too little, too late. The underlying feeling of dread is there, but that’s about as scary as The Gift gets.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Joel Edgerton
- Producer(s): Jason BlumJoel EdgertonRebecca Yeldham
- Screenwriter(s): Joel Edgerton
- Cast: Joel Edgerton (Gordo)Jason Bateman (Simon)Rebecca Hall (Robyn) David Denman (Greg)Busy Philipps (Duffy)Allison Tolman (Lucy)Katie Aselton (Joan)Susan May Pratt (Rhonda Ryan)Nash Edgerton (Frank Dale)Beau Knapp (Detective Walker)Wendell Pierce (Detective Mills)Tim Griffin (Kevin ‘KK’ Keelor)
- Editor(s): Luke Doolan
- Cinematographer: Eduard Grau
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer: Terry Anderson
- Casting Director(s): Terri Taylor
- Music Score: Danny Bensi
- Music Performed By: Saunder Jurriaans
- Country Of Origin: USA