Wednesday 3 April 2019

Movie Review: The Gift (2015)

An intriguing suspense drama, The Gift uncovers its secrets with mischievous expertise.

Married couple Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) relocate back to Los Angeles for a fresh start and move into a dream home in the suburbs. Although Simon is on the fast-track to success at his corporate job in technology security, their marriage is tense due to a miscarriage and unspoken hints about Robyn's career burnout. At the mall they bump into Gordon (Joel Edgerton), Simon's slightly awkward former classmate from high school days.

Gordon appears to be a loner, claims to be ex-military and has otherwise not done much in his life. He starts showing up uninvited to Simon and Robyn's home, bringing them gifts and lingering for dinner. Simon wants nothing to do with his weird ex-schoolmate and insists on curtailing contact. Robyn is more sympathetic towards Gordon and willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Soon Gordon's intrusions trigger layers of lies, secrets and threats, further straining Simon and Robyn's relationship.

Exploring the broad definition of antisocial behaviour and damage from the past haunting the present, The Gift is an expert blend of psychology, suspense and social unease. The film is character-rich, and uses intriguing locations, unspoken words and a build-up of palpable tension to create a Hitchcockian experience with just a dash of Cape Fear.

The directorial debut of Joel Edgerton who also wrote the script, The Gift rides a shifty rhythm of gradual revelations. The film feints towards the story of a creepy guy bothering an appealing couple before dropping tactful hints that tension can and will emanate from various unexpected sources. Edgerton plays his cards with deliberate care, investing in all three characters to build sympathy and tease out strengths and failings.

What emerges is a narrative that dares to skip past traditional roles of victims and aggressors, subverting expectations and challenging norms around personal responsibility, achievement and success. No one escapes unscathed from the flare up of personal protectionism, denial and multiple rounds of retribution.

The three central performances are all grounded by the steady script. Edgerton gives himself the most unsettling role as Gordon, but Jason Bateman also deserves credit for a veiled turn as the cocky Simon, so sure that he can deal with a fragile wife and annoying wannabe friend. Rebecca Hall is disarmingly natural in her portrayal of Robyn, carrying the burden of recent traumas and yet wanting to believe in the good within the men around her.

Expertly packaged and carefully unwrapped, The Gift keeps on giving.

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