A few months ago, I wrote about my love of trailers and the ability they have to build a movie up or sometimes tear it down, before we’ve even seen the finished product. At the time, I was particularly interested in the reaction I had had to watching the trailer for The Gift and the reviews I had read that suggested my initial reaction was way off.
Well, I have now finally watched The Gift and, yes, the trailer does not adequately represent the quality of the movie, whether by design or accident I don’t know.
The movie introduces us to the married couple Simon and Robyn, who have recently moved back to Simon’s hometown of Los Angeles due to a Simon’s new job. Shortly after moving in to their beautiful new home, they bump into an old class mate of Simon’s, Gordon or “Gordo”. Gordon seems really excited to have reconnected with Simon, Simon seems superficially friendly and not terribly interested, and Robyn, who from the get go has an air of loneliness and melancholy around her, seems pleased to have met a friendly soul in a new place.
Gordon begins dropping by their house unannounced, always bringing gifts. These visits leave Simon increasingly agitated, which only befuddles Robyn. She sees Gordon as kind but misunderstood, Simon relishes in telling her stories of how he was called “Gordo the Weirdo” in school and gets annoyed when Robyn doesn’t find these stories amusing. There is tension in this marriage already and it only gets exasperated by their differing reactions to Gordon’s visits.
Finally, during one awkward night when they have been invited to have dinner with Gordon, Simon loses patience and tells Gordon in no uncertain terms to stay away from them. At this point, we’ve all watched enough of these thrillers to think “Ooooooh, you’ve gone ‘n done it now Simon!”
Sure enough, after that, weird and disturbing things start happening in and around their house.
I’m not going to say too much more about the plot in order to save some of the mystery and enjoyment of watching it. Safe to say is that what follows is a depiction of a deeply flawed and unequal marriage, and an interesting if somewhat superficial look at how the misdeeds we commit against others can have far reaching, long lasting effects.
The movie is really well crafted and far better than you would expect for a first time director. Joel Edgerton wrote and directed the film and took on the role of Gordon. That’s some serious multi-tasking! His portrayal of Gordon is spot-on, treading a very fine balance between benign awkwardness and creepy, leaning ever so slightly towards either of those qualities whenever the script calls for it.
The cinematography is superb, not a total surprise as the DP is Eduard Grau, who also worked on A Single Man and other great movies. There’s is a certain aesthetic throughout the film and particularly the scenes shot in and outside of Robyn and Simon’s house are so well composed. There are lines dividing the screen in key scenes, panes of glass suggesting the presence of someone looking in, it looks beautiful but cold and lonely too; the whole house is a physical embodiment of the physiological issues the characters are going through.
This also brings me to one of the other excellent qualities of the movie; it is surprisingly scary! We were four people watching it, and three of us jumped in our seats and YELPED several times during the movie. It got my heart racing more than any horror movie I’ve watched this year.
Now I’m going to say some things about the storyline I didn’t enjoy so much, and it may get mildly spoiler, very mildly.
The less successful aspect of The Gift, for me, is to do with the Simon’s character and his past with Gordon.
Simon is a really terrible person. We see glimpses of this from early on, and when it is revealed later on just how awful he is, it’s no big surprise. However, the fact that he is clearly just rotten to the core takes the edge off the story for me a bit. I think the plot would have worked better had Simon been someone more relatable. Not a good man, but a flawed one who had done things that were just close enough to our own lapses that we would cringe. It may not be the intention of the movie to make us look inwards and reflect on the small (and big) cruelties we may have committed ourselves, I just think the movie would have been more powerful had it tried to. Without it, the story is really more a story of a bad man being really bad and finally having bad things happen to him.
I know a lot of people didn’t like the ending, found it exploitative and unnecessary. Personally, I think the ending worked. I did not see it coming and it left me thinking for a while afterwards about what I believed had happened, what seemed the more likely scenario, where the characters would go after that etc. I enjoy movies where the last five minutes forces you to rethink the whole movie and run through scenes in your mind. Did you see what you think you saw? What did you leave out because you were focusing elsewhere? You have to go back and pick up the trail of breadcrumbs because you walked straight past them the first time.
The Gift gets a resounding thumbs up from me, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Joel Egerton comes up with next. If this is his beginning, I think he will have really great things to show us in the future.