As a seasoned Horror fan, there isn’t a lot out there which truly scares or unsettles me. We all have our thing, that type or subject which gets under our skin, be it jump scares or vampires, or spiders, or home invasion – whatever. I don’t really have a thing, I just enjoy all horror movies – even if they’re bad, there’s probably some funny kills or gore, and even if they don’t scare me, I can love them. The Gift feels more like a Thriller than an outright horror film, and there’s certainly nothing in the film or its synopsis which signalled to me that I would be scare or unsettled in any way. Nevertheless, The Gift made me very uncomfortable at certain points, which is not something I can say about even my favourite movies of the last few years.
Before we get into that – a quick plot description. Jason Bateman and his wife Rebecca Hall, have recently moved back to the suburbs due to Bateman getting a new Executive position, and allowing Hall to chill a little after some undisclosed mental issues. The seem to be back on the right path – new job, new house, a fresh start, and planning for a baby. While shopping, Bateman is approached by Joel Edgerton who claims to be an old school friend. At first not remembering, the penny eventually drops and they exchange phone numbers. Soon, Bateman and Hall begin to receive gifts and visits from Edgerton, who seems more than a little socially awkward, and these increase in frequency and oddity. Do they have a stalker? Is there something more sinister afoot? Is it all innocent?
Unfortunately, to talk about why the film excelled as instilling these levels of discomfort, we have to dip into spoiler territory – skip the rest of the review if you haven’t watched the movie. It’s quite clear early on that Bateman’s character is a bit of a dick. He seems dismissive and controlling of others, yet easily charming when he wants his own way. It’s this sly treatment of everyone around him which Bateman plays so perfectly, and which Edgerton directs so beautifully which really unnerved me. Not that this is particularly personal in any way, but to me Bateman’s character is someone I’ve seen all through life – from School with the privileged kids getting whatever they want and assuming they deserve everything and can trample over others to get it, to Office life where the smarmy insidious ass-lickers will crush those who just want to do their job and forget about it once 5pm hits. The movie does make it clear that this is not a good person, but it rarely makes it obvious if we’re meant to be rooting for him or not. As time goes on and the secrets are revealed, this contradiction becomes less jaded. If there’s one thing I would change in the movie, to even further blur lines between contradictions and blame, it’s in removing some of the more unnecessary moments concerning Gordo, such as learning about his discharge from the Army and his issues with the Law. I would have made Gordo’s character completely straight-laced and innocent, which would have meant re-writing the shock ending which makes us question whether or not a rape took place. Having Gordo potentially committing these acts makes it seem more like he had a plan all along, and therefore was just as capable of evil as Bateman, while I feel like him just being a random innocent weirdo would have been all the more potent.
The Gift is a well acted and directed thriller which has several twists and secrets which play on many tropes seen in past movies, from the likes of Fatal Attraction and Single White Female to Pacific Heights and Arlington Road. There’s always a seemingly happy couple, there’s always an intruder with an agenda who comes to disrupt this happy life, and there are always fatal consequences. The Gift is like those films but with added secrets to unravel, and with a less clearly focused single villain. It’s a film with the power to unsettle thanks to how closely it pinpoints cultural truths and norms, and one which may piss you off for all the right reasons.
Let us know what you thought of The Gift in the comments!