Joel Edgerton‘s “The Gift” does something that many genre films from more experienced filmmakers can’t quite effectively achieve – it weaves tension and mystery among the lives of its characters in a manner that subtly flirts with horror conventions but never goes too in your face with them. In fact, to call the film a horror film doesn’t feel quite right. Aside from a couple of jump scares, one of which was exceptionally effective, very little conveys horror even though everything from camera angles, music, and focus are all conventions used gratuitously throughout almost every horror film you’ve ever seen.
While the trailers present “The Gift” as a type of Lifetime Network movie, the film carries far more appeal and intrigue than one might expect. Through exploring the ways the past can impact the present, this smartly written psychological thriller keeps audiences unsure exactly what happened all those years ago. It also explores how individuals deal with situations based on their personalities, which makes this movie far more interesting than your standard creepy stalker film. So many times in genre films from new writer/directors the characters feel like an afterthought to the story and lack any of the depth that comes from life experiences. Because this film is all about the effects of the past on the present, the characters feel richly developed.
With such complex characters, casting the right people becomes essential so that their internal turmoil only subtly reflects in their expressions as they deal with the situations in which they find themselves. Jason Bateman, departing from the generally comedic roles we’ve come to expect, tackles the role of Simon, a guy who seems to have everything going for him. Living the dream with his wife in a new home, they are beginning the next chapter of their lives. Enter Gordo, a guy from Simon’s past who starts presenting the happy couple with gifts. Australian actor Joel Edgerton (yes he’s Australian) proves unsettling as the curious man from the past whose motives are not entirely clear to the couple. Rebecca Hall rounds out the lead roles as Robyn, who is dealing with her own recent past and is equally as clueless as the rest of us regarding the events that transpired years prior while Gordo and Simon attended school together.
Trailers have claimed that this film is like “Fatal Attraction,” but I fail to see that connection. While many of the themes addressed in “The Gift” are not entirely unique, the film feels mostly original and left this viewer feeling like my time spent in the theater was, in a word, a gift.