VOD film review: The Gift
Ivan Radford | On 30, Nov 2015
Director: Joel Edgerton
Cast: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton
Watch The Gift online in the UK: The Gift / TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Joel Edgerton has made a career out of being That Guy. In Star Wars: Episode II, he was Owen Lars. In Zero Dark Thirty, he was a nameless squadron leader. In The Great Gatsby, he was Tom Buchanan. Even in Black Mass, where he plays the FBI agent protagonist, the film leans away from him towards Johnny Depp’s dominating gangster. He’s got a talent for becoming other people, his own face forgettable in the background of someone else’s story.
That trick is even more effective in The Gift, a psychological horror directed and written by him. Joel plays Gordo, an old school friend of Simon (Bateman), who appears one day in a department store, just as Simon and his wife, Robyn (Hall), are furniture shopping. There’s something immediately off about him: he’s friendly, but awkward; withdrawn, but pushy.
Soon enough, he’s turning up at their house unannounced, usually when Robyn’s alone, leaving surprise presents and notes with smiley faces on them. He’s generous – but weirdly so. Even the bright colours of his wrapping paper stands out against the grey, white building. Needless to say, our couple are freaked out, setting the stage for a standard home invasion story. But Edgerton’s thriller takes that notion to unseen, insidious extremes.
The consistently smart subversion of our expectations begins with the casting. Rebecca Hall is typically excellent as the unsure spouse, convinced that there’s more going on between Gordo and Simon than either are letting on. Bateman, meanwhile, is exceptional as Simon, playing against comedic type to give us a hero who is, frankly, a bit of a douche. Edgerton’s blank expressions, meanwhile, are never less than unsettling. As the three interact in increasingly edgy conversations, their performances gently nudge our sympathy from one character to the next, leaving us unsure about who’s telling the truth and who’s not.
That’s The Gift’s cunning trick: it plants a seed in the middle of the couple’s marriage, then quietly lets it fester, allowing doubt to spread. If you can’t trust what your partner’s telling you, what can you trust? That gap between the known and unknown is echoed by Eduard Grau’s visuals. The DoP on A Single Man gives Simon and Robyn’s minimalist home a glossy, catalogue sheen, emphasising just how exposed their large windows make them; even when they don’t want Gordo to come around, he can still see whether they’re in. Some unnerving sound design work adds to the constant sense of a physical presence lingering on the property: every time the screen glides down a hallway, you’re aware that it could easily be an intruder, rather than just a camera.
The eerie atmosphere builds to a harrowing final act, which manages that rare thing of surprising you, even as it surrounds you with comfortingly familiar genre tropes. The result is a masterful psychological horror – and, as Edgerton quietly slips from in front of the camera to behind it, proof that the actor’s talents are still only just coming to light.
The Gift is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.