UK Release Date: August 07th, 2015
Running Time: 108 mins.
Directors: Joel Edgerton
Writer: Joel Edgerton (Screenplay)
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Wendell Pierce, Nash Edgerton,
When you meet the person of your dreams, the one you want to spend the rest of your life with, would you tell them about the less flattering moments in your history, the bad bits that make you ashamed? Or would you leave them out and make a future with them? I think we would all like to craft a new reality and leave out the bad bits even if it isn’t being totally honest.
The Gift is all about the differences between perception and reality. Through the way we speak, the way we cultivate our appearance, a few spoken sentences and the content we put into and omit from those sentences, we can create ideas of who we are and influence people’s perception of us. The characters all project their best selves to the world but when the past comes back to haunt one of them they find what they considered their reality shifting.
We meet a married couple named Simon (Bateman) and Robyn (Hall). They are our main protagonists and they are fresh into moving into a modernist house on a quiet street with friendly neighbours.
Simon is an ordinary but charming guy about to start work as a sales executive for a tech company while Robyn is his sensitive and beautiful wife who is trying to get back into work as an interior designer. Then they have a seemingly rather unexpected encounter with a guy from Simon’s high school past, a guy with the name Gordo (Edgerton).
Simon is seemingly uncertain around the guy and tells Robyn he can barely remember who Gordo is but it isn’t long before Gordo tracks down the happy couple, heads to where they live and starts showering them with housewarming gifts and help.
The more Gordo helps the more Robyn appreciates his friendliness but Simon is notably on edge and reveals that Gordo had a nickname while in high school – Gordo the Weirdo.
Simon might be justified in being worried since Gordo tends to show up uninvited – almost always when Robyn’s alone and sometimes when she is in a shower or just after.
In any case, Gordo inserts himself deeper and deeper into Simon and Robyn’s life and Simon decides to draw a line when a dinner party goes wrong and it looks like Gordo is a bit of an obsessive loser.
Things kind of get out of hand from this point as Gordo takes the severing of ties pretty hard. He sends a mysterious note that alludes to an “Incident” in the past that he shared with Simon. This past is something Simon refuses to talk about and it drives Robyn to dig into it and discover that Simon isn’t quite the nice guy she thought he was.
I’ll stop talking plot at this point but suffice it to say that things do get violent and the whole perception and reality thing comes into play as Edgerton shows his skill with direction by using familiar techniques skilfully to set up ideas in the viewer’s head about the characters and story to influence how we approach the film.
At first it’s like The Gift is a home invasion thriller with Gordo as the bunny boiler attacking the normal couple. The sight and behaviour of Gordo is strange. Edgerton cultivates an interesting look and plays him pitch-perfectly. He has the awkward manner of someone not comfortable with attention and the halting speech of a nervous person. He has a weird combed-forward hairstyle, an odd-looking earring and he sports some strange facial hair. Despite the helpfulness the audience is made increasingly uncomfortable by the frequency of his increasingly invasive visits but question whether they are being uncharitably mean because of the way he looks and acts which is mostly like a sad sack loser but is this reality?
Gordo’s presence added to the prowling camera that peers into the home of Simon and Robyn, a couple who we sympathise with from the get go, effectively sets us up to instinctively fear Gordo. Then there are the odd incidents such as taps turned on, dogs going missing, sounds heard off-screen, and the disappearing pets. It makes us think of all the home invasion movies of the past and this keeps the audience on edge because of these elements are rooted in real life fears of having the safety and security of the home overturned by an outsider.
This forces our characters to change and as the film progresses and we get to know the characters more we see that the initial perception we had aren’t as simple as we first expect and it becomes a psychological thriller as Gordo’s relation to Simon’s past comes into play and Robyn begin to question her safety, her surroundings and, more importantly, Simon’s behaviour.
Throughout the film your sympathy will probably flit between characters as Simon turns on Gordo and Robyn looks into what links the men and the story turns into a twisting and twisted tale of revenge. By the time comes you will realise that the film has played with the viewer’s perception of reality from the very beginning.
The seemingly idyllic town that Simon and Robyn have moved to is the place of a troubled past that Simon was involved with but he has conveniently not mentioned to Robyn. The house that Simon and Robyn have bought is all glass windows and steel beams. It’s the type of house where privacy is traded for showiness, the wonderful furnishings the couple have can be seen through the long windows and so forth and it demonstrates their wealth and happiness but they have moved from Chicago to Simon’s hometown to make a “fresh start,” a typical phrase hinting at some dark emotional turmoil that rears its head with arguments that flare up over Gordo’s presence.
The more time we spend with them the more we see their personas are a bit ragged.
Much like the showy house they have, the two carefully arrange a façade they want to show the world. Jason Bateman’s affable charmer performance seen in things like the television show Arrested Development is never used better as he dazzles people with jokes and his smile but that veneer of normality and affability is a cover for overbearingness and bullying. Watch Robyn as he introduces her to new people and see her irritation with the way he behaves. He is an alpha male and it is a trait he has long had and it reveals an ugly side to him.
Robyn herself is beautiful and intelligent and the sympathetic character who mediates between Gordo and Simon but there is a dark secret she is hiding, a habit that has created discord between herself and Simon which is exacerbated as she finds herself drawn to Gordo’s story. Rebecca Hall keeps her somewhat ambiguous in terms of reliability, flirting on the hysterical woman trope by mixing febrile emotions with common decency. What we may see as paranoia is certainly justified by Gordo’s actions but Simon’s increasingly erratic behaviour is even more upsetting for her.
The film is an interesting watch. I found the film intellectually intriguing rather than viscerally satisfying, visually interesting rather than dazzling and the complex performances compelling and deep rather than blow-out crazy. Some of the audience I saw this with were a bit more negative but I think it is vital, an adult drama in an age where superheroes and supernatural tales dominate. It is made Blumhouse Production, the team behind the Insidious franchise and it is like a real life horror film where people, the ideas they spread, and our realisation that our perception or reality may be false are the really scary things.
This film works best with the maximum of secrecy, much like the characters at the centre of the story. Suffice it to say that what starts out as a home invasion film turns into a psychological thriller as the script peels back the layers of the characters and reveals that what they show isn’t necessarily what they are and that not everything is black or white.
Joel Edgerton is a director to watch based on this. He started out as an Australian actor on television shows like Water Rats and successfully transitioned to Hollywood has appeared in a number of films such as the Oscar winning Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and the big-budget extravaganza, The Great Gatsby (2013). In between those projects he has appeared in character-driven drama Animal Kingdom and written his own films like The Rover (2014).