The Gift is a thought-provoking, slow-burn psychological thriller.
The Gift follows Simon Callem (Jason Bateman) and Robyn Callem (Rebecca Hall), a married couple who just moved to Los Angeles from Chicago, so Simon can start his new job. The happy couple hopes that this move will be a fresh start for them, and they hope for great things to come in their future.
Through a chance encounter, Simon runs into Gordon “Gordo” Mosley (Joel Edgerton), who is an old classmate from Simon’s teenage years. That chance encounter leads to Gordo stopping by the Callem’s house to leave gifts as well as dropping by unannounced to see if Simon is home. Through a turn of events, strange things start to happen at the Callem’s house, which leave Simon and Robyn asking: Is Gordo a friendly, but weird guy or is he a dangerous stalker who wants to hurt them?
Written and directed by Joel Edgerton, The Gift serves as Edgerton’s feature-length debut. The talented actor has given great performances in movies Warrior, The Great Gatsby, and Black Mass. However, this time around Edgerton not only stars in this movie, but he also steps behind the camera to tell his story. As a result, The Gift is a thought-provoking slow-burn psychological thriller.
From a directorial perspective, Edgerton succeeds at filming The Gift with traditional mis-en-scene framing and blocking. Most of the party scenes in the movie are filmed with close, steady shots, giving us a clear picture of the environment and the characters. Edgerton also succeeds at incorporating his own stylistic flourishes into the movie, such as the use of light and darkness in his scenes. With that said, where Edgerton falters a bit is with the pacing. The first and second act could benefit from scenes being cut a little shorter. Nevertheless, the film keeps your attention from beginning to end, especially if you’re able to catch the hints throughout the film.
Script-wise, The Gift benefits from Edgerton’s strong writing voice. He wisely chooses to avoid thriller and horror clichés to tell this story. Unfortunately, some horror clichés (jump scares) pop up as the film progresses, but, thankfully, they don’t detract from the film. Where Edgerton succeeds is with his well-written characters: Simon Callem, Robyn Callem, and Gordo. All are complicated, complex characters with clear desires and troubled backstories.
The movie mainly follows Rebecca Hall’s Robyn. Hall delivers a strong performance as a depressed woman who just wants her life to get back on track after everything that’s happened to her. Hall makes Robyn likable and caring enough that viewers will easily sympathize with her actions, even though they (and myself) won’t agree with them. The problem with her character is that sometimes she acts like the typical sympathetic, naïve woman in horror and thrillers. As a result, Robyn’s interactions with Gordo will leave a lot of viewers shaking their heads.
Bateman likewise delivers a strong performance as Simon Callem. The longtime comedic actor stretches his dramatic muscles and brings a lot of depth to the complicated Callem. Scenes where Simon is desperately trying to figure out what’s happening to his family highlight Bateman’s acting range—especially when items around his house are mysteriously taken. On the flip side, despite Bateman’s performance, Simon sometimes appears as a caricature than a real person whenever he acts on impulse.
Like Bateman and Hall, Edgerton does well in the scenes he’s in. He manages to portray Gordo’s weird and nice attributes without the guy coming across as a caricature. Viewers will vacillate between thinking he’s an innocent guy or a dangerous man. Gordo’s monologues about his shared past with Simon reveal how troubled he really is.
As a film, The Gift is one of the most introspective viewing experiences someone will ever see. Viewers will consider how past mistakes in their own lives would have unfolded if things played out differently.
The Gift falters from slow pacing and minimal horror clichés, but proves with good storytelling and direction that it’s worth a watch.