Friday, 7 August 2015

The Gift review

I've been hearing good things about this thriller (which opened today), so I decided to check it out. You can read all my thoughts after the jump...

The advertising of this movie has divided a lot of critics. And by a lot, I mean practically all of them. It's marketed as a cheap, typical Blumhouse horror; cheesy, low-budget, jump-scare-a-minute in it's TV spot, bus adverts, and two official trailers. This could not be further from the truth. On one hand, some critics see this as a ploy to rake in the cash: make a generic looking slasher and the crowds will flood in. Others see it as a plot to keep the true nature of the film hidden so that the audience are even more shocked. I don't know which to believe.

Gordo the weirdo.....
The Gift begins as a straight-to-DVD horror movie always begins: with a couple moving into a new house. Simon is a wealthy businessman who has just taken a new job in California and moved there with his wife, Robyn. They seem happy, hugging and making romantic gestures. But. But what? There's something not quite right. There's a darker side to this relationship hinted at: baby toys lie abandoned in boxes, and Robyn reveals details about a miscarriage and her subsequent depression to her neighbor. It is strongly suggested that this depression is all but over.....

At a furniture store, Simon and Robyn encounter the odd 'Gordo'. He is polite and charming enough, but has an uncomfortable air. We can't place it though - maybe Robyn's reasoning that he's just 'socially challenged' is correct. Soon enough, Gordo is leaving a series of  increasingly elaborate housewarming presents, inviting himself into the house, and eating dinner with the couple. Simon seems unhappy with this, but why? So far it's all pretty standard. I mean, the atmosphere is good , but it reeks of cheap horror/thrillers. It's like the trailers portray it. The story continues. As Gordo becomes more familiar with our main protagonists, he invites them round to his house for a bite to eat.

This is where the Gift plunges down one of the deepest and darkest holes in recent cinematic history.

A suspect gift...
Any more plot explanation would spoil the fun (try not to read too many reviews before you go and see it), but suffice to say expectations are upended, tension builds to an unbearable level, and the film hurtles towards a decidedly nasty and shocking conclusion. Believe me when I say this film is tense, in fact, it's probably the tensest film I've ever seen (even over Blue Ruin). And the 'twist' (or at least, the main one) is by far one of the most shocking available (for a brief idea, think Gone Girl, then turn it up a few notches). The Gift explores marital distrust and disintegration far better than any other effort that comes to mind, and it's all because of the creeping unease. Very little is done, but much is threatened. We are always kept on our toes; liking, then hating, then despising, then liking characters as their true identities shift and morph into something we cannot fathom.

Edgerton never utilizes a cheap jump-scare. Indeed there are only two 'scares'

in the film. The first comes after an incredibly long build up; it feels tense and inevitable, but ultimately, the big reveal is a surprise. The second is perhaps more shocking, but leaves less impact due to it's sudden and unexpected arrival. Apart from that, there is a myriad of long hall shots and darkened rooms to contend with. But Edgerton knows not to release his pressure, and to keep piling it along to the finish line. In doing so, he also honors horror cliches such as the shower, missing family animal, and many window shots. This is all underpinned by a stylish and minimalist aesthetic which is complemented by crazy-good lighting.

Jason ain't too happy
The acting is fantastic: Bateman steps out of his comedy comfort zone and plays a layered, complex character that most great actors could only dream to get their hands on. Edgerton exudes just the right amount of mystique and oddness, yet still retains a charm that makes you doubt the true intentions of the man. And Rebecca Hall plays a confused, upset, and cheated wife to insanely genuine levels.

In the end, The Gift is all kinds of good: it's super-tense, ultra dark, uber cool, superbly acted, and above all, original. It's just a shame it lingers on the generic side for a bit too long...
The Gift gets 4 stars!

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