The Gift (STX Entertainment, R)

The Gift_75The greatest strength of this thriller is everyone feels not too far off from the real-world types of evil.

 

 

 

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Some people change after high school, whereas other people remain the same. So says Simon (Jason Bateman), implying that he is a changed man. Whether or not he truly has changed, Simon is definitely successful. After getting a new job in Los Angeles, Simon and his well-meaning wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) move from Chicago to a glamorous suburban home near his hometown. They find themselves shopping for furniture when they bump into Gordo (Joel Edgerton), a former classmate of Simon’s. The encounter is awkward. Simon doesn’t initially recognize Gordo, and was in a hurry to end the meeting. Robyn thinks he seems nice, but Simon insists it was odd.

Soon after the encounter a gift appears on their doorstep from Gordo, which is odd considering they have no idea how he got their address. He stops by again, but this time Robyn is there to greet him. After an imposing silence, Robyn invites him over for dinner, much to Simon’s displeasure. The creepy-but-kind Gordo keeps leaving them gifts, and even makes a few visits to Robyn in the day. His motives are ambiguous. Simon is convinced Gordo is a creep who wants to be him, whereas Robyn feels sympathy for Gordo. She thinks he is just misunderstood. The greatest strength in this film is its ambiguity, as both perspectives seem plausible. As the tension slowly builds in this thriller, there seems to be more to Gordo and Simon’s relationship than Simon lets on.

Already an established actor (you may remember him from Zero Dark Thirty), The Gift is a smart mystery/thriller and impressive debut for Joel Edgerton as a director and screenwriter. Most notably, he does an excellent job at directing his cast. Jason Bateman goes against his usual typecasting in this film, which will most likely be the main talking point in after-screening discussions. His reputation as playing the trustworthy good guy works well here, as Simon slowly reveals himself to be an egomaniac unable to own up to his choices. As Simon and Gordo continuously swap places as the film’s antagonist, Robyn (who isn’t entirely reliable herself) works well as the one for the audience to relate to.

The Gift is a familiar flick that is likely to become a summer sleeper. It will undoubtedly remind you of 80s thrillers like Fatal Attraction, or even Michael Haneke’s work. The Chekov’s gun principle is all over the place in this film, and at times it makes certain twists feel obvious. There is one particular time the principle was used (it involves a monkey) that felt silly, and I think the film would have been stronger without it. Despite the fact that you can feel most of the twists coming, they all land nicely. The greatest strength of this thriller is everyone feels not too far off from the real-world types of evil. The final swerve really won me over. Instead of going the expected route, it does something much more sophisticated—and in turn more believable. The trailer undersells it as something we’ve seen a million times before, but in reality it’s smart update on a familiar genre. | Cait Lore

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