The Gift

Director: Joel Edgerton

Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Busy Philipps, Wendell Pierce, Allison Tolman, Tim Griffin

Rated: R (Language)

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.

 

The Gift

By Cole Schneider

Do you remember the forgettable trailer for that bad home-invasion thriller with Jason Bateman (“Arrested Development”) in the nice house and Joel Edgerton (Zero Dark Thirty) always comes by as a creepy neighbor? It was called “The Gift”. Now imagine the absolute best version of that movie, then give it a Michael Haneke (“Cache”, “Amour”) edge and intelligence and you have the actual film, “The Gift”. It looks predictable and cliched; it seems likely to be redundant and brainless, but “The Gift” is brilliant! The film is completely indulgent and effective in its genre-fare yet also supersedes the traditional trashy thriller with a wicked smart concept, great performances, and first-rate filmmaking.

Most of the movie follows a rich couple who have moved back to the husband’s old stomping grounds where a man from his past shows up and (anti-)pleasures ensue. To give more away would be unfair, but the character developments and plot turns are presented in genuinely believable and sometimes frightening ways. Edgerton also wrote, directed, and produced the film and it’s a very impressive debut, calm and assured. You can see why he would want to play Gordo, the creepy man from high school. There is a richness of both plot device and humanity in his character, and he is downright scary. He’s as scary as any character to grace the big screen in some time.

The film comments on corporate greed and capitalist bullying, the haunting nature of unrequited grudges, and even personal security and surveillance by the end. Those last comments are a touch undercooked, but critically, none of this takes away from the surface narrative. This might’ve been Hitchcock’s favorite movie of 2015!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

The Gift

By Matt Greene

The trailers for The Gift make it seem like a dull home-invasion yarn as forgettable as last week’s soap opera. In actuality, director Edgerton’s debut is quieter and more skillfully patient film than expected, with a style and tone more mature than most. With shades of Polanski, the ever-present tension is more of the skin-crawling variety, with only a few earned yet effective jump scares. It’s a suspense film firmly staked in real-ness, making it an ever-ominous, steadily increasing suburban nightmare.

The situation is uncomfortably relatable: a couple (Bateman and Hall) becomes increasingly annoyed / creeped out by a strange and assertive man (Edgerton) from their past. Each of these three performances is really strong and naturalistic. Hall plays broken perfectly, and Bateman is fantastically authentic as Simon, a wonderfully complex character whose morality and motivations are as fluid as his truth. Edgerton, however, is the standout as the subtly pushy and socially-off neighbor. Every time his character showed up uninvited, I got physically nauseous, as if I had to deal with him myself. The movie wants us to be annoyed by him, all while feeling bad for it, and it fully succeeds.

Much like last year’s Gone Girl, these first-class discomforts work as a takedown of the American Dream. When our success creates space for boredom or selfish ambition, dangerous fear and anxiety can lead to poor judgment. Along with manipulation and compulsive lying themes, it’s not necessarily the happiest movie of the summer. However, The Gift is a slow-moving, non-pandering thriller made for adults that’s a nice change of pace in the middle of the blow-em-up summer cinemas.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

 

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