Movie Review: The Gift

When the sins of your past come back to haunt you, there's nowhere you can hide. From an excellent directorial debut by actor Joel Edgerton, we get this lesson cooking right from the start, with a worthy thriller that builds up to a fiery ending. A surprise at every corner, from the simple plot that molds into a complex nail-biter to a cast of B-list actors delivering some of their best performances, The Gift is the slow-burn sleeper hit you've been dying to see this summer. A thriller that has the looks of a horror film, but the reality and heart of a brilliant suspense film, this one appeals to fans of both the though-provoking and the edge-of-your-seat cringing. 

Simon and Robyn (Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall) are a well-off, loving couple who have just moved back to their roots in suburban Los Angeles. Living a near-perfect life, Simon working his way up in his new job and Robyn yearning for her time to become a mother, the young couple begin their new life in peaceful tranquility. Said peaceful tranquility is quickly disrupted when the couple runs into Gordo (Joel Edgerton), an social awkward high school pal of Simon's who seeks his friendship once more. Following a series of generous gifts and dinner invitations from Gordo, the couple begins to feel uneasy about him and soon discover that he may have other intentions than just becoming their friends. When the horrors of Simon's past with Gordo are suddenly brought to light, Simon and Robyn's relationship is tested as she questions who exactly her husband really is. A series of twists and turns at every moment, as truths are revealed and dangers escalate quickly, The Gift warns us that while you may be done with the past, the past isn't done with you.

After seeing this one in the theaters a few weeks after it came out, I can now say that I am so glad that I saw this before the summer was over. A thriller that initially had a brooding horror feel to it by the looks of its trailer, I was initially cautious about seeing it, hoping it wouldn't be another clich├ęd jump-scare parade like the typical ones released nowadays. To my surprise, yes, it was a spooky, stalker-centric thriller, but it also was a brilliant debut of a new talent. Being the directorial debut of one of my favorite Hollywood actors, Joel Edgerton, The Gift played into numerous horror-esque genres, offering up many surprising things to be appreciated. Not your typical horror flick, however, with their eye-rolling plots and usual paranormal basis, this worthy thriller brought me back to an almost Hitchcockian feel, with an excellent build-up to a fantastically spooky third act. While I'll delve into the themes and the plot progression in a moment, I'd just like to praise Mr. Edgerton, for not only serving up a worthy end-of-summer sleeper hit, but also doing the Ben Affleck thing and staring in his own movie. Directing a great film and making for one dynamic stalker, this film no doubt heightens my love and curiosity in what actor-director Edgerton may do next.

Diving into themes of betrayal, lies, bullying, corruption, among other things, The Gift suddenly evolved into more than your average spook-em-up thriller. It became one of those excellent thought-provoking films that I can't help but yearn for everyone I know to see and debate on what the hell they just watched. While the usual big-time mind-f*ck films come from mainstream directors like Christopher Nolan or David Fincher (See Inception, Memento, Gone Girl, etc.), there's always those few directors that slip through and deliver something just as memorable (and just as brain-churning). One of the biggest surprises to come from Joel Edgerton's first film is his amazing use of broad and dark themes, themes that ultimately put weight on us as people of society. From the drastic effects of bullying and rumors to the impact of how our past sins can one day come back to haunt us, Edgerton weaves these themes elegantly throughout his piece, working perfectly to build up the suspense. And once that suspense builds, and the tables have turned finally, Edgerton ends the film with a near-perfect "What's next?!?" moment that will surely leave you pondering.

Playing out among these themes of hidden truths and the sins of our past, we have a very unique and unusually small cast of characters. With three B-list actors leading the show, you probably wouldn't expect any Oscar-worthy performances in a film like this. In that case, you might be right, however, the cast of unique actors do deliver probably some of their best performances for this genre of film. Beginning with the happy couple, we have comedy-veteran Jason Bateman and a not-so-veteran Rebecca Hall. While Iron Man 3 and Transcendence actress Hall may have delivered an adequate performance as the loving yet conspiring wife to Bateman's Simon, it was Bateman that stole the show when it came to this duo. Being your typical comedic actor, another big surprise was seeing Bateman take on such a serious and dramatic role as this. While the actor may have retained his signature sarcastic tone, something that years of comedy roles probably aided him in perfecting, the tone without a doubt helped him pull off the asshole-type character that he was playing. Even if it felt as though he should've been in a comedy rather than this type of flick, by the end of the film, Bateman's performance blossoms into one of true caliber as he plays a brilliant game of cat-and-mouse with Edgerton. As well, Bateman's sarcastic nature played well with Hall's fluent cunning style, which made them an enjoyable couple to watch dissolve slowly as secrets were uncovered.

The man pulling the strings not only behind the camera, but also within the film, Joel Edgerton delivers his most collected and complex performance as Gordo, the secretive stalker who taunts the happy couple. A role that any strange-looking man with a deep voice could play, Edgerton makes it his own as he goes from the unsettling shy guy to the cunning stalker of your worst dreams. An actor who can without a doubt play both the silent watcher and the flamboyant leader, Edgerton delivers a spooky yet simple mastermind with Gordo, a man haunted by his past and burdened by his future. While it certainly isn't the actor's best role (with his role in The Great Gatsby still near the top), Edgerton can afford to step back from the spotlight and hide in the shadows, offering up a haunting stalker-like character with his own level of charm and malice. Unsettling from start-to-finish, and soon forging his dominance over the man who once dominated over him, Edgerton's silent but brilliant Gordo made the film what it is: A dynamic summer thriller to watch over and over. 

Overall, The Gift may not be the blockbuster that Mission: Impossible is, but it definitely delivers what it promises and doesn't ask for more than that. The sleeper hit, much like the one that every summer season has, this time introducing a new and exciting filmmaker to the playing field, The Gift is intelligent, tense, and spooky enough to put my faith back in the thrillers of today. Slow-paced but suspense-building throughout, this one may not be the jump-scare fest some horror fans crave, but will certainly hold you with its dark themes and fluent plot. And no, fortunately it's not as slow-paced as the new Fantastic Four.

I gave this film a 7 out of 10 mostly because it was surprise on many levels. While it not have the best and most original story in the business, it does deliver great performances and superb suspense on a smaller budget. With an up-and-coming director at its helm, one that I'd love to see again both on-screen and behind the camera, as well as many surprising turns that keep you going along, The Gift is surely one of the best and most thrilling gifts of this end-of-summer season. 

Craving more movie stuff after that review, stay tuned soon for more reviews on the most recent films I see, as well as my much-anticipated breakdown on what films you should see this Fall! I may be going back to school (unfortunately), but I'll still be here with some more awesome reviews and other things for you to enjoy! Remember to follow and share my blog for more...                       

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