Editor’s Notes: The Gift is currently out in wide theatrical release. For another perspective on the film, read The Gift: One Contriving Catastrophe After Another by Jason McKiernan.
Directorial debuts, being the first windows into the minds of aspiring filmmakers, are terribly important to get right. If a debut is too self indulgent, the director may be regarded as narcissistic. If it’s got a messy script, they’ll be considered incompetent. However, if it’s something that correctly and effectively harnesses potential, they’ll be attributed to all of that creative success. Watching debuts like these is wonderful, simply because you’re proud of the director, and are looking adamantly for the film’s commendable aspects. Thusly, you allocate focus to the good, and appreciate everything more. And watching The Gift, it’s hard to find many negatives.
Joel Edgerton’s first directorial outing is tense, suspenseful, and dark in all the right ways.
Joel Edgerton’s first directorial outing is tense, suspenseful, and dark in all the right ways. It follows Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall who’ve just moved into a new home, looking for a new start, and unwillingly face several run-ins with a man from Bateman’s past, Gordo, played subtly by Edgerton. Gordo presents himself as questionably awkward, and a bit obsessive, thus we, the audience, immediately put the pieces together and believe him to be a creep. Then, once we’re absolutely sure of this, the film decides to change itself in exponential ways. Maybe a particular scene lingers on Rebecca Hall more than the previous one did, or maybe quirks of a certain genre are methodically adopted. With each change comes a new way to reevaluate our own personal assessments of Gordo, all while we learn new things about Bateman and Hall that make us analyze whose morals and opinions are more reliable. This makes The Gift a relentless guessing game on further levels than just Gordo’s sanity.
As we dive deeper and deeper into the bent psyches and histories of each character, what’s present onscreen echoes through us with harrowing realism.
As we dive deeper and deeper into the bent psyches and histories of each character, what’s present onscreen echoes through us with harrowing realism. As the dark recesses of each character’s human emotions are compared to the horrors of human nature with terrifying ease, it all can’t help but feel so drastically heavy. The fact that we can see a bit of ourselves in Hall, Bateman, and Edgerton is haunting, especially in a story that’s so grim. And, even after leaving the theater, the guessing game isn’t over. Discussion is practically necessary, as there’s so much depth to what seems to have been marketed as a standard suburbian thriller.
And of any recent film to fall victim to underwhelming marketing, The Gift should be a prominent example. There are countless layers to be found here, and while the trailers may show off the cast’s fantastic performances, it’s hard to spot anything profoundly intriguing there that you’ll find when watching the film itself. Maybe that’s a good thing, so a lot remains surprising, but those who aren’t convinced by reviews may write the whole thing off as something insubstantial. When, in fact, it’s staggeringly well-directed and written, acted remarkably by everyone at play, and more concerned with breaking down its leads than excessively stacking jump scares upon itself.
The Gift is one of 2015’s most surprising films yet. It’s disturbing in more ways than one, analytical instead of trashy, and crafted with brilliance that’s sure to resonate with those who see it.
The Gift is one of 2015's most surprising films yet. It's disturbing in more ways than one, analytical instead of trashy, and crafted with brilliance that's sure to resonate with those who see it.