Whatever happened to the subtle, frightening thriller? It’s alive in The Gift.

Australian actor Joel Edgerton’s (The Great Gatsby, Zero Dark Thirty) writer/director debut, The Gift is a flawed, but exciting example of what is wrong with big, action-movie dominated Hollywood. The paucity of movies like this makes too much hang on the success or failure of a few, and that is not fair to a genre that knows no generational, sexual or racial boundaries. Everyone can enjoy a good thriller, but there just are not enough of them out there to justify their existence.

The Gift at least delivers the kind of tingles that make us hopeful that more will follow. Jason Bateman plays Simon, a man with a past, who seems at first to be the perfectly devoted family man. Rebecca Hall is Robyn, his wife, sadly failing at getting pregnant, but skilled in her work, and happily enough married as she and Simon continue to try to produce a child. Edgerton then enters the picture, playing a former high school classmate of Bateman’s named Gordo, who is socially awkward and who attaches himself clingingly to them, giving them presents too often, dropping by at unseemly times, and generally making himself a nuisance. Hijinks ensue.

The movie is shot in the classic center of such films, LA, present day. Effectively using the glass walls of the house into which Simon and Robyn have moved, Edgerton presents the truth that all of us live fragilely protected lives, but he goes beyond that to probe deeper truths of the consequences of past sins often coming to haunt us much later in our lives. But then the layers go even deeper, as we discover that people are not always what they seem and human sinfulness can dwell in the most attractive of shells. Add to all this building subtlety in the plot of The Gift a superbly crafted twist at the end of the film, and viewers have to come out thinking, “Boy, that was amazing. I did not see that coming.” Unfortunately, thrillers don’t usually lend themselves to deep internal analysis, or, perhaps, too, they will reflect on their own lives and how there could be consequences later for how the viewer might be treating people now.

The movie is not perfect. Sometimes it is too subtle, and gaps appear in some of the characterizations that needed to be rectified. Plot points, too, are sometimes too easily won; when Robyn begins to doubt Simon, she too quickly and too completely turns on him. The film needed to earn the rift more since it had spent so much time training the viewer in the couple’s love for each other.

The movie even touches on a particularly intriguing social topic in some circles right now, that of bullying at school and its consequences. While Edgerton does not seem explicitly aware of this discussion, and has made what is largely entertainment, the film could serve as a gateway for a discussion of what high school bullies grow up to become.

In any case, though The Gift is in the process of leaving theaters now, the movie is well worth renting, if you feel like a scary, exciting night in front of the TV.

Drew Trotter

October 8, 2015

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