“The Gift” is like getting a massage from someone who has studied how to execute sensations in all the finite pressure points of your body that you didn’t even know existed. There was this spine-tingling, intense, foreign jolt constantly running through my body. It’s amazing how someone can elicit such a response from doing seemingly so little with a template I was sure I knew all about. In the end, it’s unlike anything I can describe—which is exciting.
Going into a movie with the tagline “You may be through with the past, but the past isn’t done with you” left me little room for imagination. In fact, nothing about the ominous poster of serious people looking very serious, simple title or “Fatal Attraction” style narrative would make anyone think of this movie could result in such an opening as I have written above.
The movie starts exactly like anything we’ve seen in familiar films. A loving husband, Simon (Jason Bateman), and his adoring wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall), move to a new city to start a new life and everything seems it will be hunky dory. They are attractive and successful and we want to root for them because they are so darn cute.
Then a red-headed man with a goatee and a single earring recognizes Simon from high school as he goes into a home goods store. Gordo (Joel Edgerton) was the weird kid in school who never grew out of being weird. His facial expressions are stoic and emotionless and the one earring is clearly a fashion faux paux. But Simon recognizes him as well, and he suggests they catch, granted he does with an empty gesture and “let’s get the f*** outta here” eyes. Because, let’s face it, who wants to have dinner with the class weirdo?
Soon Gordo begins leaving way-too-thoughtful gifts (like glass cleaner for their home, which by success status levels dictates be made entirely of glass), making him the guy we will experience at some point: The guy who has no friends so he puts all the kind energy he has into making you his best friend, ends up calling you 27 times a day and looking into your home to see if you’re around. It’s a naturally creepy situation that makes for a perfect film atmosphere.
But what’s genius about Gordo’s presence is that, like the shark from “Jaws”, you see very little of him as the movie goes on. In fact, after a fed-up and pretentious Simon tells Gordo to stop visiting him, we practically never see him again. But his stench lingers and works its way into the happy couple’s life. Like a true horror movie, every little noise inside the house raises the hairs on the neck and spawns the “is he in the house?!” cries of confusion. See, not every horror movie needs shaky cam and slamming cupboards.
Soon it becomes the mystery of who this man is and what he wants deepens, shifting the terror from Gordo to the couples own deterioration. Simon did something to this poor chap back in the day, and those bubbly feelings we felt for him at the beginning, feelings that would normally hope for his survival in any other movie of the genre, evolve into hate as this surface-level family man is unveiled to be a narcissistic bully who, like Gordo, never grew out of his high school standing.
Caught in the middle is the sweet Robyn, who has to deal with all the creepy visits and noises, being a stay at home soon-to-be mom. But most aggravating is that as the plot thickens she too begins to question he faith in her spouse. She asks, “Who is the villain? Gordo, or her husband?” Simon keeps locked drawer with files on enemies, but Gordo unnecessarily buys the couple Koi fish. Which is creepier? I still don’t know.
Like the David Fincher classic “Seven” the ending is drawn out with the utmost, unnerving mastery as the events that transpire forces the audience to embrace their worst fear: The confrontation of events they expect might happen, but hoped to God wouldn’t.
Bateman proves what he hints at in his normally dry comedic performances which is that his has the capability to be a massive jackass who is immensely intimating given the perfect role, and I may say it will go down as his best performance. Edgerton knows the role of Gordo in and out, and I wonder if maybe he was the weird kid in school, seeing as how he is so good at it here. Hall is also great as Robyn, whose relentless encounters with the suspense of the situation show in her tired eyes and exhausted day-to-day routine of “what the hell is gonna happen to me today?”
But more so than the performances, the key to this movies success lies in the dual writing directing duties of Edgerton. As the movie cruises through its brisk 108-minute runtime I tried to imagine how long it took him to write the script for this movie. It clearly started out a simple revenger thriller, but over the years (I assume) he was able to refine it and whittle it down to its most basic necessities. There is someone who is projected to be (and may remain given your standing on the unfolding events) the villain, and a couple who are supposed to be the heroes fighting away his weirdness. But with a simple “what happened all those years ago?” angle he was able to ring out taunt, curious thrills—with a wallop of an ending—out of a mystery that unfolds like a perfectly blooming flower…covered in blood.