<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed (and written by) Joel Edgerton. Starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Allison Tolman
The moment I saw Blumhouse Productions had made this film I was expecting a complete dud. I’ve hated all their so-called ‘scary movies’ and ‘haunted house films’ so far with a vengeance. So I’m betting it’s more to the credit of first-time director Joel Edgerton – who has also written and starred in the film – that The Gift is such a wonderful psychological thriller.
You want to feel a chill down your spine, you want goose bumps to erupt and you want to be frightened out of your comfy theatre seat with genuine scares (and not the cliché-ridden rubbish we see in scary films today) when you watch a thriller. In The Gift the fear comes not from ghosts, demons, haunted houses, possessed dolls or poltergeists; it comes from people and their fears, their doubts, their past. But director Joel Edgerton has told the story so immaculately and dexterously that it feels like a ‘scary movie’ in the truest sense.
Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) buy a new house back near his hometown so that they can start afresh. They want a family and are also running away from some troubled times. While decorating their new home they bump into one of Simon’s old high school friends called Gordon ‘Gordo’ Mosley. Simon doesn’t quite remember him but Robyn thinks he’s a nice guy. Gordo doesn’t disappoint her; he leaves gifts for the couple on the doorstep of their house and soon comes over to have dinner with them. But Simon suspects Gordo the Weirdo’s intentions aren’t chaste.
Sure enough, strange things start happening in the house and in the mind’s of Robyn and Simon who themselves can’t see eye-to-eye about several things. And slowly we see their life unravelling by freakish incidents and suspicious deeds from the past.
What’s amazing about The Gift is that the suspense is palpable and keeps on giving. There’s not a moment you are sure about what is actually going on, what the motives are and who really is the bad guy. The tension is there even when that element of fear and disturbance – namely Gordo – is not even present. Joel Edgerton’s framing of the scenes and his eye for detail in everything make all the difference in what could have turned out to be an average ‘creepy neighbour/stalker friend’ film. And his performance is so understated yet full of angst and mystery that it is divine. Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall are equally on tempo as their loving relationship slowly transfigures into something else.
The music by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans adds to the goose bumps as does the cinematography by Eduard Grau.
The Gift deftly avoids clichés and portentously sets about its story through clever writing, direction and nuanced performances without ever treating the viewers like dimwits who need to be spoon-fed. Best scary movie in a long time!