|UK Release Date||7th August 2015|
|Reviewed||14th August 2015|
Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman are on rare form in The Gift, a stylish, taut psychological thriller from Joel Edgerton that will have your bottom firmly on the edge of your seat and get your brain cells working overtime.
Upwardly mobile couple Robin and Simon are moving from Chicago to the Hollywood Hills. To a beautiful glass house, an ode to architectural minimalism, LA modern chic at its best with a side measure of cold and detached. Immediately there is a sense of sadness, detachment about Robin. A sense of loss. Simon’s bombastic nature seems to swamp Robin’s delicacies but they are here and clear to the audience. A chance encounter with an old school friend of Simon’s, Gordo leads to a series of unexpected and generous gifts left on the couple's doorstep in foreboding packages and awkward unexpected visits as lonely Gordo tries to become part of the couple’s lives. The more open and welcoming Robin is receptive to the relationship but the bombastic Simon is keen to keep Gordo at arms’ length, mocking him at dinner parties with more acceptable new friends. As Simon finally decides to cut Gordo out of their lives the relationship sours in a chilling way and Simon’s past comes bubbling back to the surface and threatens to tear Robin and Simon’s lives apart.
The Gift is the third film scripted by Edgerton, The Rover and Felony being his last two outings, but the first behind the camera and Edgerton proves himself to be a skilled auteur. From the outset the atmosphere Edgerton creates is a troubling one. Hall’s Robin is hesitant, faulting. Even before the backstory unfolds it is clear that she is putting on a brave face, an act. There is sadness, around her coupled with the uneasy acquiescence of a battered wife. Hall portrays this subtly and beautifully; it’s incredibly emotional to watch. Scott makes grand gestures, talks for Robin, and talks over her. Her past problems are constantly dangled in front of her like a naughty child. As we watch the relationship between open and loving Robin and increasingly overpowering Simon a shift in the narrative begins. What was a chilling stalker movie now moves towards a different narrative, the script is skilled enough to sustain our interest and make this shift seem seamless.
As the film moves into this different narrative path the horror is from a different perspective but in some ways is more worrying as reality opens the heavy floodgates of the horror of truth. The film tonally shifts through this part but then returns to the original path for it’s chilling conclusion. On the whole this is well handled, if one looks too closely there are plot points that are somewhat hard to swallow but the film has enough going for it to let it slide and just enjoy the ride.
There is open deception everywhere; from the opening scene, glass walls separate Robin and Scott. A love heart blown onto glass then rubbed away, the initial mist covering their faces. Director of photography Eduard Grau and Edgerton find inventive ways to convey the masking of the truth. Gordo brings Robin and Simon glass cleaner as a gift, a way to let clarity and clearness into their new lives but Simon rejects all these offers at being open and honest, wanting to carry on living in his own world. Simon is head of sales at a security company, selling people safety when he is the menace in his own world.
In The Gift Edgerton has created a classy and original thriller and elicited spellbinding performances from his two outstanding leads, Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman. Edgerton himself puts in a stellar performance and is almost unrecognisable as damaged loner Gordo. Theatrical in performance, Bateman and Hall are capable of conveying an array of emotions with few words, tiny glances and Edgerton lets this all blossom in front of the camera. These actors have room to breathe, to think, to be. It’s spellbinding to watch. The other actors Edgerton has populated this world with are refreshingly ‘normal’ and interesting. It is almost theatrical in it’s ideologies and all the better for it.
Eduard Grau’s beautiful camerawork makes the most of the muted colours and cold glass of the ‘dream house’ the couple are living in. Grau’s use of shadows, nets, reflections and mirrors keep us stylishly jumpy throughout. It’s a shadowy world up there in the beautiful glasshouse where anyone could be looking in. The soundtrack by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans is one of the best I’ve heard in recent times, moving, atmospheric and spooky without being OTT, wonderful stuff.
From the outset The Gift sets itself apart from recent movies of this genre with the sheer weight of the class of the cast, script and director. An inventive and gripping drama and a class act, I, for one am looking forward to seeing what Mr Edgerton does next.