When Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) move back to his home town he bumps into Gordo (Joel Edgerton), an old high school friend keen to rekindle their friendship. Despite Gordo’s desperation, Simon pumps the brakes claiming that his eagerness to please is a symptom of being infatuated with Robyn. From that moment, the ghosts of the past come back to haunt Simon and Robyn.
Edgerton is unsettling you every moment that he’s on and off screen. His debut direction is tense, reminiscent of his frequent collaborator David Michôd, and the script is as sharp and economical as a rapier. The Gift is not so much unwrapping one singular tangible gesture, as it’s unwrapping the characters that we’re presented with at the beginning of the film. The more you hurry to tear away the package that houses them, the more you’re frightened at what they’re covering up. Gordo is an extremely slippery character. Edgerton cloaks himself in a bumbling desperate facade, yearning to impress and latch upon the familiar. However, with each passing moment, there’s something else you glimpse through the cracks; whether it’s a reflexive focus or a sudden adjustment in posture something’s not right. Jason Bateman’s Simon is a character that you feel like you know less the more the film progresses. From the beginning of the film you get a sense that he’s been through an extremely rough patch with Robyn and that although he’s charming and likeable there’s a snarky serrated edge to all of his interactions; so that there’s never an exchange without a bite. Simon though, has a past that he’s constantly been ahead of and while Robyn starts to dig through the dirt of the past begins to stain. Rebecca Hall is so completely bound by Robyn’s fragility. In an environment both as a recovering addict and as person vastly more accustomed to the buzz and hum associated with the vibrant city life of Chicago that isolated suburbia may as well be circling the Earth in a space station. Hall all but whips the audience into her characters frenzy and paranoia.
Edgerton’s first time behind the lens is greatly aided by the sensational editorial skills of Luke Doolan (Animal Kingdom). The wealthy and picturesque L.A hills become a frightening landscape that feels the most vulnerable in broad daylight. Tracking shots following Hall through deserted streets, Long, agonising staring out windows into the surrounding valleys don’t comfort you when you don’t see you anything obviously sinister, they rattle you because everything seems so banal. Doolan uses some great editing tricks, such as playing the sound what’s happening in the next scene a fraction of a second before the image splices to reveal it, so that you’re constantly waiting for a traditional horror jump scare that never happens.
What’s the titular gift? Well Edgerton has said that he wanted to do for ‘gifts’ what Jaws did for sharks. This review would say that it turns your house into that flimsy shark cage, lowered into chum filled waters.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Joel Edgerton
Written by: Joel Edgerton
Editor: Luke Doolan
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Alison Tolman