A Review of Joel Edgerton’s The Gift: A Solid and Restrained Psychological Thriller

the gift movie review

Film: The Gift
Director: Joel Edgerton
Primary Cast: Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Jason Bateman, Allison Tolman
US Release Date: 7 August 2015

A version of the following review was published by Side B Magazine and can be found on their blog, here. 

The Gift opens with Simon (Bateman) and Robyn (Hall) looking at home (with a great deal of windows) with a real estate agent in California. The two are married and are moving from Chicago back to the general area where Simon grew up. A recent promotion at work has made it possible for them to afford the beautiful mid-century modern home, where they hope to make a “fresh start” and start a family.

After purchasing the home, Simon and Robyn take a trip to a home goods store so that they can begin decorating. As he is checking out, Simon is greeted by a man named Gordo (Edgerton), who says that they went to school together. Simon doesn’t recognize the man at first (or, if he does, does not say so), but soon “remembers” who he is. Before the awkward meeting is over, Gordo is introduced to Robyn and gives her his phone number.

Shortly afterward, Robyn finds a bottle of wine on her doorstep with a note indicating that it is a gift from Gordo. Simon thinks that the gift is a bit odd, but Robyn is more appreciative. Over the following days and weeks, Gordo shows up to Simon and Robyn’s home on a number of occasions and leaves several more surprise gifts. Gordo always shows up to the home uninvited and when Robyn is home alone.

Though the visits make Robyn increasingly uncomfortable, she also wants to believe that Gordo means well and even says that she relates to the man’s socially awkward tendencies. Simon, on the other hand, has no interest in spending time with Gordo and begins planning a way to end the “one-sided friendship” that he and Robyn have with him. Meanwhile, Robyn begins to question whether or not her husband has been totally honest with her about his past especially as it concerns his relationship with “Gordo the Weirdo.”

Written and directed by Joel Edgerton—who until now, has been known almost exclusively for his acting—The Gift is a solid and restrained psychological thriller. Though it isn’t perfect, the film represents a strong directorial debut from Edgerton, and it’s sure to surprise viewers for a wide variety of reasons.

People aren’t always what they seem, and neither is The Gift. If you are like me, than you may have disregarded the film when you first saw the trailer for it several months ago (and each of the many times you saw it again on television). Fortunately, The Gift isn’t nearly as uninteresting or as ridiculous as its trailer indicates. I would have enjoyed certain parts of The Gift more if I didn’t have the trailer memorized before seeing it, but there was still plenty of the film left for me to sink my teeth into. The Gift isn’t the film I expected it to be, and while it does boast plenty of twist and turns, what really surprised me was its overall quality.

With The Gift, Edgerton has created a slow-burning thriller that is firmly rooted in the mires of the psychological. e best things about The Gift is the atmosphere of tension that it manages to create. A sense of unease and dread pervades the film. Even more remarkable is that the dark and rather unsettling mood of the film has nothing to do with any violent or otherwise horrific images. More often than not, what’s frightening in The Gift is what exists below the surface—in the minds, pasts, desires, and imaginations of its characters. With The Gift, Edgerton has created a slow-burning thriller that is firmly rooted in the mires of the psychological. In fact, the film is more of a character study than anything else. Though the pace of the film is slower than many other “thrillers,” the people that The Gift presents (as well as the interactions between them) are more than intriguing enough to keep viewers interested for its full duration. On top of that, Edgerton’s story is likely to keep audiences thinking well after they leave the theater.

In fact, Edgerton’s script is responsible for a considerable portion of The Gift’s success. The film’s twist and turns land well. They may be surprising in the moment, but they all make sense in hindsight, which is absolutely crucial. Edgerton also shines as a writer in many of the conversations that Gordo has with Robyn and/or Simon. These encounters are awkward and feel incredibly realistic. Edgerton seems to have a real ear for the way people talk, especially when they are uncomfortable but are still trying to be polite.

Another aspect of the film that is worth mentioning is the lack of resolution in its ending. I won’t spoil any of the specifics here, but The Gift doesn’t give viewers a sense of finality. What occurs in the film will continue to impact the lives of those involved for as long as they remain alive. The film ends, but the story doesn’t, and viewers are much more likely to leave the theater coated in a lingering residue of uncertainty as a result.

The main performances in the film also mostly good. Edgerton is creepy in an understated, realistic, and truly disquieting way. As Gordo, he is both pathetic and frightening. He’s also unreadable in a way that will ensure that viewers are fascinated by him. As good as Edgerton is, Hall is just as good. She has more screen time than anyone else in the film, and she plays the complex part of Robyn quite wonderfully. She is vulnerable, on edge, and afraid, but she is also a woman trying to enjoy a new phase in her life. Bateman is also decent, though he is not as memorable as his co-stars. As Simon, Bateman manages to come across as threatening even when he is smiling and socializing politely, and he clearly has what it takes to navigate dramatic and comedic roles alike.

While Edgerton’s script does show a good deal of skill and promise, some of The Gift’s narrative threads are not handled as elegantly or as successfully as the rest. Thrillers tend to go down more narrative paths than other films, so maybe it was inevitable that parts of The Gift’s story would seem weaker than the others. Luckily, viewers are likely to be pretty forgiving of this sort of flaw as long as the film remains interesting and as long as it culminates in something worth talking about—for the most part, The Gift does both.

One thing that still bothers me about the film (and probably will for some time) is it’s treatment of Robyn at the end. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything, but the film does seem to unjustly rob her of a certain amount of agency in its final moments. Robyn is the star of the film. She is the character that viewers have the most access to and that they are likely to care the most about. For most of the film, she is a complete character too; but in its final moments, The Gift turns her into a conduit of sorts. She becomes the means by which another achieves their own ends. Much of The Gift is about Robyn, but Edgerton seems to abandon her at the last moment in order to give priority to the two men around her. What happens to her may make sense within the film, but the way it is presented feels a little bit too disrespectful.

Even if it’s not my favorite film of the year (or even of August), I appreciate The Gift. The film’s aims may be somewhat sparse, but it does exactly what it wants to do. Other than a few jump scares, nothing about The Gift feels cheap or easy. Instead, the film takes its time and gets under the skin. The Gift trusts itself to present characters and an atmosphere that will pull viewers in. It also trusts its viewers to pay attention. The Gift isn’t life-changing, but it’s certainly respectable, and it is sure to leave many eager to see what Edgerton does next.

Until Next Time
Thanks so much for reading! In addition to The Gift, I also saw the Shaun the Sheep Movie this weekend, and I really enjoyed it. I probably won’t review it for this site, but seeing its worth seeing if you have the time.

Also, you may have noticed that I reworked some of the colors on this site. Woo colors?

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