The Gift

Do you see thrillers more than once?

Psychological thrillers are an odd genre for me, because once the intrigue has played out, the secrets come out, and the ending reveals surprises, the thrill is gone. I can watch good comedies repeatedly because a good laugh never gets old. I’ve seen the Fugitive half a dozen times because watching the good guy win—and watching Tommy Lee Jones’s character—never gets old. I’ve seen Hoosiers probably 20 times because, well, I’m from Indiana, and watching game-winning buzzer-beaters never gets old. The Sixth Sense? Once. Mystic River? Once. Silence of the Lambs? Once. They’re all well-made, entertaining films, but I don’t ever need to see them again.

Edgerton reveals secrets and questions about social rank. Do we ever change out of our high school stereotypes, or do we just grow more comfortable with them?

The Gift, the latest addition to the genre, is well crafted, thought provoking, and has more twists than a dance party at Chubby Checker’s house. But is it worth repeated viewings, or even one?

Joel Edgerton wrote, directed, and stars in the film as Gordo, a socially awkward, discharged Army veteran who runs into Simon (Jason Bateman), a former high school classmate who just moved back to Los Angeles with his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall). One chance meeting leads to more Gordo-initiated encounters at Simon and Rebecca’s house, including the presentation of several housewarming gifts. Robyn tries to be sympathetic, albeit cautious, towards Gordo, but Simon is not eager to reconnect with his old acquaintance. As the movie continues and the young married couple starts to feel more uncomfortable around Gordo, the viewers start to learn the high school backstory, in which Simon used his popularity to shame and bully the loner Gordo.

As the film unfolds, Robyn becomes the one trusted character, and she takes the audience with her on a search for answers from the past that could help answer current questions. Edgerton reveals secrets and questions about social rank. Do we ever change out of our high school stereotypes, or do we just grow more comfortable with them? Are we eternally responsible for our actions as immature adolescents? And what factors are more responsible for how we turn out: our own actions, or the actions of others towards us?

Edgerton makes his viewers ponder these questions while simultaneously freaking them out. The scenes where Gordo is absent—and there are many in the last half of the film—are more suspenseful and ripe with anticipation than the scenes with him. Edgerton, Hall, and Bateman all play up the film’s quiet intensity with subtle acting turns that never go dramatically overboard.

Edgerton is at the beginning of what should be a breakout year for him. In addition to completing the acting-writing-directing trifecta for The Gift, he has a leading role next to Johnny Depp in the upcoming Mafia biopic Black Mass. Both movies should give Edgerton additional credibility and lead to more roles as actor and director. He has a gift (no pun intended), but he doesn’t completely succeed in his feature-length directorial debut. Without giving anything away, Edgerton trades subtleties for over-the-top drama when the truth is finally revealed in the last 10 minutes of the movie. After leading the audience through a series of smart, psychological, mind-bending moments for most of the film, he undermines his good work by hitting his audience over the head with creepiness.

The movie stayed in my head for more than a week, along with a feeling of “what am I going to write about this?” Edgerton’s twists were thought provoking, but ultimately my thoughts focused on how unsatisfying the ending was. The Gift is a smart, freaky ride that takes a wrong turn. While it’s gripping and interesting, I don’t ever need to see it again.


2.5/4 stars. Rated R for intense scenes, disturbing images, and an unsatisfactory ending. I jumped out of my seat three times.