Generally, genre speaking, thriller trumps horror in the suspense and unease stakes. While horror movies aim to disgust and offend with graphic imagery and glamourised gory violence, thrillers are psychological slow burners that make the heart beat that little bit faster.
On the coattails of David Fincher’s high-octane marriage thriller Gone Girl, comes the feature directorial debut from Australian son-of-a-gun Joel Edgerton. Set predominately within the highly exposed glass walls of a newly built home, The Gift centres around an anti-love triangle and revenge being a dish served very very cold indeed.
Loving husband and wife Simon (typical funny-man Jason Bateman; Arrested Development, Horrible Bosses) and Robyn (British actress Rebecca Hall of TV’s Parade’s End and the Marvel blockbuster Iron Man 3) have moved to the affluent ‘burbs of Los Angeles from Chicago. They seem to have it all: Simon has a new job and promotion on the horizon, Robyn is a freelance interior designer, and the couple are trying for a baby. All feelings of contentment and normality are thrown out of the crystal-clear window, however, when Simon’s ex-schoolmate “Gordo” shows up – a brilliantly awkward yet menacing Edgerton.
After the fleeting promise of “we’ll catch up”, Gordo takes it upon himself to just show up – unannounced and frequently – to the new home, and whilst Simon is instantly weary and bristled by his sudden appearance, Robyn welcomes him as best she can. From the outset, however, there are indications that something isn’t quite right with Gordo – the stiff and tense body language, the dead eyes, the praises he heaps onto Simon and Robyn, despite barely knowing them.
Then the “gifts” in question begin to arrive. Every week it seems, Gordo rocks up to the couple’s home – where Robyn is working, of course, completely alone – offering presents and invitations. When a subsequent dinner date turns sour, however, Gordo’s overly-friendly disposition shifts, and the crux of the film really starts to gain menacing momentum.
A throwback to the sub-genre hits of the late 80s and early 90s, think Fatal Attraction and Cape Fear, this film thrives on the unknowing. What was Gordo and Simon’s relationship in school? What are their intentions now? Why is Simon so worried about his wife? And like all good thrillers, our two respectable “heroes” slowly disintegrate too, unveiling bit by bit their own insecurities, troubles, and most deliciously, their true nature.
In true classic thriller style, there are plenty of twists and turns and shocks. Be prepared to gasp and jump in the cinema, and in the case of the woman in my aisle, drop your popcorn. You’ll break a sweat watching those long, lingering corridor shots, as Robyn pads barefoot through the house at night, sensing an intruder.
Robyn’s almost steadfast politeness is commendable, as she continues to accommodate Gordo where most of us would’ve ran a mile. A pixie-cut Hall is perfectly cast, walking the fine line between pleasant and paranoid. As Simon (and yes, the “Simon Says” connotations are explored), Bateman is excitingly diverse. He is a successful man with a great wife and a great home, but he too is hiding secrets, and as Gordo’s interruptions become more and more intense, Simon’s picture-perfect facade begins to drop.
As Gordo, perhaps the most rewarding character in the piece, Egerton is fantastic. Unrecognisable in brown contact lenses, dark dyed hair and Van Dyke beard, he is an instant enigma, thus, the perfect “villain”. The reason for his one-sided friendship goals are initially unclear, and are probably at their most frightening that way. What could be more terrifying than a random man showering you in gifts and complementing everything you do?
Supporting cast wise, the characters are secondary but solid. There’s sweet and convincing performances from the new Fargo’s Allison Tolman as Simon and Robyn’s caring and concerned neighbour Lucy, a typical the-boss’s-wife stint from Busy Phillips, and a brief but memorable outburst from The Wolf of Wall Street’s P.J Byrne as Simon’s job rival Danny McDonald.
Flying the flag for Aussie talent in the U.S, Edgerton has made his mark with The Gift. It’s a stylish thriller that hooks you in from the get-go, with three leading performances yo-yoing the tension between one another. See the movie, and when you get home, close all windows and blinds. And lock all doors. And keep the dog inside. And don’t except any gifts with big red bows on them… Ever.
The Gift is now showing