By: Jake Turner (A Toast) –
I always say the best kind of horror film is the one that gives you that chill of realism, or the one where the past rears its ugly head and uncovers dark secrets. The Gift is no exception; in fact it is the scariest film of the year so far. This movie gave me the chills for quite a long time after I left the theater.
One way to stay in Hollywood for a long time is to go outside-the-box and come up with a passion project. Actor Joel Edgerton can now add writer and director to his already lucrative resume. Teaming up with a little known production company known as STX Entertainment and a superb cast, he breaks out of his usual typecasting to show more layers to his acting.
Watching The Gift made me think of films like The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, When a Stranger Calls (not the pathetic remake), Prisoners, and…the ultimate scary film for a man, Fatal Attraction. This film is accepted into this chilling category, especially if you were a bully in high school. If you were, I’d start going through your yearbooks because this is NOT the film for any bully.
I thought coming back as a hitman was crazy enough. Never mind.
Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall are Simon and Robyn, a Chicago couple who have relocated to Los Angeles, due to a new job at a home security company for Simon. Their house is like a glass house, to the point where you can see whomever is at your door from the kitchen, but so can your potential guest see you. At a store (looking like Bed, Bath, and Beyond), they meet Gordon Mosley (oozing with complexity thanks to Joel Edgerton) right out of the blue. Speaking about that, things get interesting when Simon says “Gordo”, which was his nickname back when they were in high school… together.
Right off the bat, you can feel the uneasy chills crawl across your spine. Just when you think this will be a generic letdown of a thriller like The Purge (still can’t stand that ending), it becomes a slow burn thriller that brings layer after layer of story until the two shocking twists at the end. This is not accomplished by violence, but by mental manipulation and the lesson that your past will come back and haunt you. Or, only if you don’t let “bygones be bygones”, said by a weary and mysterious Gordon later on.
“I won’t be ignored, Dan.” Here come the chills again.
I can’t say any more except that this film will blow you away with its ambiguity. Edgerton writes like a lover of 80’s and 90’s stalker thrillers and directs with a crisp accuracy by putting the audience in the passenger seat. As it unravels one plot point, it surprises the audience with a brand new one, then embeds the moral of the story within its characters and ending to the point where you wince at something such as the supporting characters all being callous and downright mean about Gordon, after Simon jokingly ripped on him.
Hey, Affleck and Clooney. Make some room for my Director’s chair!
Speaking about layers, Bateman reveals a full-on transformation from his comedic side into the dark and sometimes nasty character of Simon. His eye contact and body language shows his denial and anger building as the minutes pass by, in full frontal fashion. Hall gives a knockout but restrained performance as Robyn. In the beginning, Robyn is cautious but optimistic about being friends with Gordon, but she gives him a chance. Since meeting Gordon, though, Robyn starts to see a different side of Simon and with that, the film just stays its insanely real course and even fakes out the audience many times. I still can’t get over the scene with the missing dog.
Does it look like I want to do Horrible Bosses 3?
Films like The Gift give me hope that Hollywood can still make some original and excellent films and keep away from the Hollywood Recycle Bin (films like Transporter Refueled and Hitman: Agent 47 come to mind). It felt like an early introduction to the Fall movie season, and what a way to get it started.
The Gift uses psychological and realistic suspense over physical violence to make its spine-tingling point that if someone did something unforgivable in their past, they can never truly get away from it. Excellent performances, old-fashioned camera shots, and a hell of a directorial debut by Edgarton makes The Gift the best suspense thriller of the year so far. All you have to do is begin the unwrapping.