“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

The Gift

tn_gift THE GIFT is a domestic stalker thriller that seems very familiar from the outset. Happy successful white couple Simon (Jason Bateman, SMOKIN’ ACES) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall, THE TOWN) buy a beautiful new house in a lovely new suburb. Simon has a promising job and possible Big Promotion. They’re trying to have a baby. They quickly make new friends at work and in the neighborhood and have those sophisticated adult dinner parties with the wine and what not that I have seen in movies but am not invited to. They have a dog.

And at the store they run into a guy Simon knew way back in high school. Joel Edgerton (WARRIOR) plays Gordon Moseley, a.k.a. Gordo, a.k.a. Gordo the Weirdo. Simon says he barely knew him, but the guy seems nice enough and anxious to welcome them to town (even if it’s weird that he shows up at their house with too many gifts) and they invite him over for dinner. And he keeps wanting to be their best friend. It’s awkward, but harmless. OR IS IT?

(Harmless I mean. There is no question that it’s awkward.)

In many ways it’s a nicely prepared bowl of the traditional recipe for this kind of thing. Well acted, well photographed, tense am-I-being-watched sequences in a house with way too many windows, which Gordon even points out, bringing them a gift of window cleaner. Of course there’s disagreement between the couple, with him being insensitive about cutting off the friendship and her being maybe overly forgiving of Gordon’s social faux pas. The situation puts strain on the relationship, bringing their flaws to the surface.

mp_giftAnd then it starts to be surprising. I didn’t expect the issue with Robyn that causes her to suddenly behave rashly and calls her perceptions into question. And revelations about the high school days and Simon’s shifting behavior start to veer the whole story in a different direction than your usual exactly-as-the-trailer-promised-but-with-a-twist-ending type of potboiler.

Note: Fargo season 1 heroine Allison Tolman plays the nice neighbor lady who becomes Robyn’s confidant. It’s not a complex role at all but she puts her big, sympathetic eyes to use. I hope she gets to be the lead again soon.

Everybody’s good, but Bateman’s the MVP, and this is a role uniquely suited to him. People might not remember this, but as a child star he was good at the entitled prick characters like Derek, Ricky’s asshole friend on Silver Spoons. He had a Travolta-in-PULP-FICTION like career resurrection when he starred in Arrested Development, where he acts as the voice of reason and audience surrogate among a family of crazies, but in any other context Michael Bluth would be kind of a jerk. Here Bateman gets to really span that stretch between audience identification and total dickishness.

uncleowenI’ve been a fan of Edgerton since his supporting role in the Australian crime drama ANIMAL KINGDOM (soon to be an American TV series!?), which is also when I realized I recognized him from playing Prequel Uncle Owen. Here he’s good playing odd and difficult to read. But the impressive part is that he wrote and directed it. Recently he got Awards-talk-type-raves for his performance in the Jeff Nichols film LOVING when it played at Cannes, but THE GIFT made me think he’ll be directing some more. This is good. Remember that one time when Clint Eastwood was an actor who became a director starting with a stalker thriller?

I do have one problem with the movie, but this is HUGE ENDING SPOILER TERRITORY from here on out. After Simon has revealed himself as a total asshole – a bully both past and present, and seemingly screwing people over to get a better job – Robyn’s so disgusted with him that right after giving birth she tells him she’s leaving him. And he thinks he can fix it but he goes home and there’s a “gift” on his doorstep that reveals that after all this Gordo really is a weirdo, he’s been stalking and recording them, even drugging her and at least making it seem like he raped her and is the father of the baby (the “gift” – yuck). Set aside the very questionable (okay, there is not even a question about it) taste of the rape implication, and the logical conclusion that they could use the tape to convict him of sexual assault and science to answer the paternity question he intends to haunt Simon with, I don’t like it because the movie has gotten us excited by upending our expectations, doing something really unique, and then in the final stretch it says, “Nah, don’t worry, it is the same thing as every other movie, he is the bad guy like you assumed. And go ahead and root for the rich asshole bully to get away from the nerd whose life he ruined.”

Despite that ending, which for me deflates the whole thing right when it thinks it’s revealing Keyser Soze, this is a different and well executed enough thriller to be worth your time. If you can enjoy those ’90s twisty stalker type thrillers I recommend it.

By the way I’m not talking about the Sam Raimi one with Cate Blanchett or the one by the guy from Jane’s Addiction, I’m talking about the Joel Edgerton one. I’m not sure if that is clear.

uncleowencard

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 7th, 2016 at 9:37 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

11 Responses to “The Gift”

  1. Great review Vern. Man, the ending to this thing left such a bad taste in my mouth but not in the way that I think the movie intended. I won’t get into SPOILERS or anything specific but I felt that the final stretch of this movie was troublingly misogynistic. And yes, I mean the actual movie and the way it treats the sole prominent female character in the film not what happens in the film or the motivations of the characters themselves etc. I honestly don’t think this thing is exploring the notion of women as property, or how men can sometimes claim ownership of a woman’s abuse, I think it just turns a female character into a cheap prop to stage a really misguided “Oh shit! Got ‘im!” twisteroo at the end without considering the uglier implications of that.

    Unlike Vern I didn’t think much of the rest of the movie either. It seemed to me to hit pretty much every beat that these kinds of movies usually do (nothing wrong with that of course) so I was kind of surprised to see so many reviewers saying “It’s not the kind of movie that you think it is!” when in my opinion it is *exactly* the kind of movie that you think it is. I actually just found it to be a little precious and coy, like it felt that it was above its own genre or something when really it’s just a pretty standard seemingly-perfect-family-is-torn-apart-when-person-from-past-reappears-with-possibly-nefarious-intentions-also-secrets-and-who-can-you-trust-etc.

    Maybe if it had done a THE TALL MAN with the bullying angle and totally flipped the script in the second half then I might have been more into it. Damn, now I really wanna go and re-watch THE TALL MAN.

  2. Yeah, I’m not really sure what to make of the ending either, but I remember the film being well put together and that most of the second half went in directions I didn’t expect. I’d love to see more stuff like this from Edgerton. Back in 2008 he wrote a strong Aussie Noir called The Square that was directed by his stunt man brother Nash Edgerton. Sounds like it’s a pretty talented family.

  3. The ending works for me as it puts Bateman into a nightmarish dilemma.

    Does he do the honourable thing by telling his wife what happened, and risk losing her and his possible child forever?

    Or does he keep his mouth shut in a chance to fix his relationship, but suffer the guilt in knowing what happened?

    Honestly, I’m amazed that the filmmakers assumed we’re mature enough to not fly off the handle with that ending. If this was a major studio production, you can easily imagine the script getting blue-pencilled.

  4. MacBlayne – I totally get that the movie is presenting the ending that way, but it’s doing so at the expense of resolving the character of the wife as nothing but a

    (SPOILER)

    possible rape victim / plot mechanism. I guess I just couldn’t see why I was supposed to care about the dilemmas Bateman’s character was struggling with when they seemed to me to be so self-absorbed and grotesque as to exist in a total vacuum of relatable humanity. But not in a way that I felt that the film was exploring on any morally stimulating or thought-provoking terms. At the end it was 100% about Bateman’s character and his feelings and 0% about Rebecca Hall’s character and hers. And to me the film didn’t seem to realise how much of a problem that was from a character / gender point of view let alone a narrative or thematic one.

    The actual subject matter of the ending didn’t bother me at all though. I’d argue that the 2011 Spanish film SLEEP TIGHT delved into similar yet even more reprehensible territory with its ending, but in the context of that film I thought it worked as a ruthless gut-punch as well as an impossible moral puzzle to solve.

  5. I loved this movie, and I did have problems with the ending, but MacBlayne’s interpretation totally works for me. I don’t think it lets Bateman off the hook, nor frames Edgerton as a simple villain, but does encourage us to imagine a deeply flawed man having to deal with the consequences of his actions.

  6. ENDING DISCUSSION (SPOILERS):

    I was initially really offput by the ending as well, but as I talked it over with friends I started to feel a little differently. I think the implications of what Gordo has been doing are so abhorrent that they cost him our sympathy, which feels like it’s going against the movie that came before it. But, I think it still works if you think of Gordo as being kind of Frankenstein’s monster. This is what Bateman has created through his seflishness and carelessness.

    This part may be me doing extra work to ‘apologize’ for the film, but I also think Gordo did not actually rape his wife. But I think he knows that Bateman will never get a paternity test or file charges against him. He knows that Bateman would rather live with that horrible uncertainty than get a simple test done and possibly get a result he doesn’t like. He knows that just the suggestion will torture Bateman endlessly – and that he’ll deal with it alone rather than further torpedo his relationship with his wife to investigate it more.

    I agree with the other posters about the way that element is framed and the inherent misogyny there, but I do think that’s softened just a bit when looked at in this way.

  7. Personally I think the end of the movie dropped the ball by not having the baby turn towards Bateman and be revealed to have a full goatee.

  8. THE INVITATION, THE GUEST and THE GIFT make for a great triple feature in the Hospitality Horror genre.

  9. THE GUEST is really great, even though it might be a B-movie for people who normally don’t enjoy B-movies. I enjoyed every second of it though.

  10. The ending was a weird experience for me.
    At the reveal, my first thought was “what an ingenious dastardly revenge!” but even as a man regularly exposed to (and supportive of) feminism it still took me a good couple of seconds to think “that poor woman”.
    I wonder how many of us men never even consider that second question?

    I’d taped this ages ago and have only got round to watching it tonight, as my horror-sceptic girlfriend (source of much of the feminism cited above) is away for a few days. It’s a shame really as I’d really like to hear her thoughts on this film. I may have to force her (GIRL POWER!) to watch it just so I can give feminine feedback on the…you know, issue.

    Bateman is incredible though. The “apology” scene was both hilarious and terrifying.

    I would have shot the ending differently though. I think it would have been cool to just slowly zoom into the child’s eyes and cut abrupty to black without all the various reaction shots. Just leave the audience to think about what that means.For the characters, for the story, for all of that. Maybe that’s a cliche.Is it? I dunno.

    Ha, as if? The question audiences ask after this movie is horrible.

    And for the record, the answer is yes, probably, when you think about it.

    yikes!

  11. I remember watching this in theaters and being flabbergasted by the ending, and then going on IMDB to see what people had to say about it. I then watched it again nearly a year later, and then I watched it for the third time last night. It really made me see things in certain perspectives. I personally don’t think that Gordo raped Robyn, especially after watching the alternate ending. In fact, he liked her. Maybe not in a sexual or romantic way, but he clearly had no beef with her like he did towards Simon. I will say that I hated Simon a lot more when it was revealed that he got his competitor fired so that he would be guaranteed the promotion. Also, prior to my third viewing of the film, I read some synopses of this film, as well as the script. I kept on delving into that minor bit of the story of his promotion. I was starting to wonder if he used some of Gordo’s background to fabricate Danny’s “bad track record.” I might have to watch this with the commentary to see what Edgerton was really going with when he wrote and directed it.

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>