“You may be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with you.”
Joel Edgerton’s The Gift is the latest in a string of impressive directorial debuts over the past year. My two favourite films of 2014, The Babadook and Nightcrawler were also the debuts of their respective directors, as was Ex Machina earlier this year and most recently Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. These are genuinely excellent films for a new generation, from a new generation of filmmakers, and as someone who likes seeing fresh ideas rather than the same repeating patterns, it’s one of the few recent industry trends that I find exciting.
Does Edgerton’s movie belong in the same category as those other films? I think it comes close, and is certainly one of the more interesting cinema releases this summer.
Fresh off his portrayal of Ramesses in Exodus: Gods and Kings – arguably the best thing about that film alongside Christian Bale’s Moses – Edgerton emphatically proves with The Gift that he is much more than the proverbial one-trick pony, in both his acting ability and in an accomplished sense of direction which helps turn what could have been – indeed what starts out as – another generic Hollywood thriller, into something much more intriguing.
Having said that, its secret is actually quite simple: plotting. The Gift captures the essence of what makes you come back to any good story, winding one way and then another, before a surprising and satisfactory conclusion. It begins with a happily married couple, Simon (played by Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) moving to a new house, Simon having just secured a new job. They seem to have a picture-perfect lifestyle, though little details over the course of the film’s first half reveal that Robyn may have had recent issues with mental health and/ or drug addiction.
Once they’ve moved in, they soon meet Gordon ‘Gordo’ Moseley (played by Edgerton himself), a stranger who claims to know Simon from school. Gordo comes across suitably creepy at first; while he does not appear overly threatening, you get the feeling you wouldn’t want to leave him alone with your kids. He starts to leave harmless gifts on the couple’s doorstep as a way of welcoming them to the neighbourhood, and as the film goes on you begin to wonder when we’ll finally discover his true intentions. This undercurrent of slight unease from start to finish is one of the movie’s core strengths.
The Gift does a great job, exemplified through Edgerton’s ambiguous character, of luring you in with a seemingly formulaic set-up before turning certain plot elements on their head. As the story progresses, especially towards the final third, you begin to suspect Gordo might not be such a bad guy at all; while his presence unsettles the relationship between Simon and Robyn, you get the sense that might not be his fault, but rather an unspoken aspect of the past that gradually changes how we see one of these main characters.
Yes, this is a movie about how our past sins can come back to haunt us, but it also goes a little further than that; suggesting that our past sins or mistakes, if not adequately dealt with, are actually indicative of who we are today. We see, as more details are revealed, that said character is essentially the same person they were then – and their lack of remorse or ability to see themselves as having done anything truly wrong is eventually used against them.
The surprises don’t stop there with this film, though any further details should really be experienced in the cinema rather than a review. Needless to say, The Gift is one of my favourite films of the summer. It won me over with its simplicity, and I think it will likely do the same for you.
9 / 10