Increasingly we are seeing more and more actors turn their hand to directing, with big names like Clint Eastwood, Ben Affleck, Ben Stiller, Jodie Foster, Mel Gibson, Angelina Jolie and Joseph Gordon-Levitt all acting as examples. The results can be mixed, splendid or horrid, but it is always interesting to see what a star in front of a camera can do behind one. However, Joel Edgerton has gone a step further in writing, directing and co-starring in his first feature, The Gift. It is certainly risky and on paper this blend of thriller, drama and horror sounds like the usual home invasion/stalker formula. Here though, Edgerton has counted on that oversight on the audience’s part to create one of the year’s most suspenseful, surprising and refreshing genre features.
The film sees married couple Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn Callum (Rebecca Hall) move into their new home, when by chance they meet a very generous man called Gordon (Edgerton) that used to be a friend of Simon’s at school. What seems at first like a friendship soon opens up into something darker as Robyn discovers more about this man and his past with her husband. If you have seen the trailers, posters and TV spots that are a spin on that old “bearing gifts” saying, you likely know what to expect from The Gift, right? Wrong! Take our advice and cease to read anything about the film or its plot and go into this fresh because this truly is a gift to its genre. Edgerton’s film is a literal story of what goes around comes around, with Hitchcockian-influenced suspense that keeps you glued to the screen from start to brain-drillingly effective finish.
Edgerton’s story is simple yet reaches far with its ideas of existential and moral dimensions to human life. The film is a slow building joy that features practically no cheap gimmicks, and unlike most films of this genre, it restrains from reverting to over-the-top silliness. The film takes pleasure joyously toying with your perceptions and subverting them with a compelling story of man’s power to lie and destroy lives for either personal gain or sick pleasure. And as for the final twist, the less said the better; all we will say is that it is the best-delivered finale twist in a horror suspense film since Tobin Bell got up from that bog room floor in Saw. Simply put, it stuns and digs into your head, providing that final psychological pinch that The Gift had been unknowingly (to us, that is) building up to from the very start.
Usual funnyman Jason Bateman is on top form in leading duties, where he plays things straight and in the process gives us a lead in Simon who becomes far deeper than anticipated. Meanwhile Rebecca Hall is excellent as his wife Robyn, who is without doubt the film’s most sympathetic character and Hall makes her - and we can’t quite believe we are saying this - a believable and rational character. Then there is Edgerton who, as Gordon (or “Gordo”) is on-screen less but his impact is felt in every fabric of the narrative, and Edgerton constantly challenges your viewing reading in the role. There is also some noticeably strong support from Allison Tolman (from TV’s Fargo), who as neighbour Lucy adds to this film’s paranoid and untrusting vibe.
This film may make the odd oversight when it comes to realism, but you would have to be very pithy to hold that against it in a major way. In all, the direction, like the writing, is executed with such professionalism that it is hard to believe the talented actor is making his directorial debut and it leaves us eager to see what else Edgerton does in this genre. Some may be disappointed that this is not all action or a scare-a-thon stalker of a flick, but many more will admire just what this film really is. The Gift doesn’t sacrifice entertainment to morally lecture; it injects an edge-of-seat and cautionary horror tale with cruel humanity, fun, intrigue, twists and scares. Like all the best gifts, this film has come as a complete surprise and is one you will be unwrapping in your head days after viewing. In fact, it might even make you rethink just how you have treated people in the past… beware of presents on your doorstep!
Special Features: Featurettes / Deleted Scenes / Audio Commentary
THE GIFT / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: JOEL EDGERTON / STARRING: JASON BATEMAN, REBECCA HALL, JOEL EDGERTON, ALLISON TOLMAN / RELEASE DATE: DECEMBER 7TH