A beautiful young couple move into a beautiful house in the American suburbs. He has a new job and she is working freelance. Everything is perfect, right? The Gift shows us that our past can catch up with us when we least expect it, threatening to unveil secrets and turning everything upside down.
Ten years ago in 2005 Joel Edgerton, an Australian actor then known for playing Owen Lars in Attack of the Clones and Will McGill in the Australian series The Secret Life of Us, portrayed a socially awkward Englishman trying to save a shoe factory in Northampton. This year he is back and is just as socially awkward, if a little more sinister, in his feature film directorial debut, The Gift.
The Gift focuses on a married couple, Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall), who move from their inner city life in Chicago to the quieter suburbs. Once there they bump into a school friend of Simons, Gordo (Joel Edgerton). This chance encounter will have a dramatic effect on their seemingly perfect existence. Gordo keeps showing up, offering gifts, and in turn unveiling the individual pasts that they both thought had been left behind.
The Gift has a definite atmosphere of tension and mystery. Eduard Grau delivers effective cinematography utilising the assets within the main couple’s home to help build tension. Grau takes advantage of the excess of glass within the home as well as adding in moody and cold décor to mirror the changes in their relationship. Grau previously honed his cinematography skills in A Single Man and The Awakening, both of which demonstrated atmospheric visual skills that are now evident within The Gift.
It is intriguing and refreshing that within the plot of The Gift there is no clear-cut morality. The intricacies involved in the history of the characters makes it difficult to have a defined victim and perpetrator, which is refreshing when so much of the genre is bound to this binary thinking. Both parties (Simon and Gordo) have a dark side and both parties have been a victim in one way or another. The plot is involved, but it makes sense as the film progresses and is an interesting take on the past coming back to haunt you, Fatal Attraction style (no microwavable rabbits though).
The score, composed by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, is well put together and compliments the film incredibly well. The music flows through the film building tension where needed and adding dramatic effect. This musical double act is an established team and their collaborative experience is revealed in an aptitude for atmospheric effect. The increase in tempo mirrors the increase in the audience’s heartbeat; or rather it is a causal factor in this increase.
The Gift is by no means a horror film, but there are some genuinely jumpy moments. It is rare to see an entire audience jolt at the same time but this film manages it. This is in no small way aided by the effective cinematography and composition of music. Both are used set expectations, and then disrupt them entirely.
Edgerton casting himself may appear narcissistic at first glance, however his portrayal of Gordo is excellent. He embodies Gordo’s vulnerability and his anger efficaciously. Rebecca Hall, an English actress known for The Prestige and Starter for Ten amongst other films, demonstrates an outstanding command of the American tongue as well as a strong character performance. She provides Robyn with an impressive combination of tenderness and strength. Batemen also gives a credible performance as Simon, effectively switching from caring husband to angry bully with a believability that is admirable. On occasions you see his comedy heritage try and peek through but it is just about kept in check. All of the characters undergo significant changes throughout the film, and each transition is achieved admirably by the cast.
The Gift is an atmospheric and moody thriller that will have viewers second-guessing themselves at every moment. This is by no means the greatest thriller of its type, however it is a strong feature film directorial debut for Edgerton and one that will hold viewers attention throughout. Just hope there isn’t something waiting on the doorstep on the return home.