It’s not easy to find originality at the box office these days. With so many reboots, remakes and “re-diculousness” becoming the new norm, it’s becoming harder and harder to find something different.
It’s even harder to find a thriller that doesn’t rely on cheap gimmicks to make you jump. Those are fine in small measure, but if that’s the only way a film can get you on the edge of your seat, it’s doing something wrong.
I’d seen the trailer for “The Gift” a couple of times and wasn’t completely convinced that it wasn’t just a box-office Lifetime movie. Those always have the creepy neighbor/teacher/friend/relative that stalks, steals and kills.
But there was something that just seemed a little different about this one, and the fact that it had Jason Bateman meant I was likely to give it a shot. I’ve been a fan of his since his teenage acting gig on a 1980s sitcom. Yes, I’m very loyal — except when he’s in ridiculous-looking comedies. My loyalty only goes so far.
Writer/director/star Joel Edgerton brings us the unsettling story of Simon (Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall), a seemingly normal couple that moves to a new home with lots of windows. While out shopping for furnishings, the pair runs into Gordo (Edgerton), who is off-putting at best. Simon and Gordo are old high school classmates, but it’s an acquaintance Simon doesn’t look fondly upon.
Gordo slowly immerses himself into their lives, showing up at their home at the randomest times and buying them gifts that are a bit unsettling. He’s socially awkward and far too intimate in his conversations. Robyn sees a softer side of him. He’s helpful and seems kind. Simon, though, isn’t as easily swayed. He remembers the nickname he and classmates used “Gordo the Weirdo” and doesn’t think much has changed.
Without giving anything away, “The Gift” is a slow-burner. Simon’s right. There IS something unsettling about Gordo — and not just the fact that his name is Gordo. He’s unnerving. He’s too personal. He’s too, well, everything. Edgerton is creepy yet innocent enough to keep the audience guessing.
And then there’s Simon. Honestly, he makes Gordo seem like the nice guy. Simon is bossy, self-centered and pretentious. It’s not just his disdain for Gordo. He’s uppity toward his wife, and it makes him kind of a douchebag.
It doesn’t help that Robyn is a pushover. Her only real role in the film is to serve as a pawn in this game between Simon and Gordo. Oh, and she’s a potential baby-maker. Apparently, she and Simon had a miscarriage in the past, and he’s gung ho that they try again.
I’m walking on a tightrope here. I can’t really reveal anymore about the plot. So, I’ll switch gears a bit.
Sometimes, it’s a little too much to take on when a writer decides to direct and star in a film. Sometimes, it works brilliantly to do two of the three such as Mel Gibson directing and starring in the classic “Braveheart” or the dynamic duo of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck writing and starring in “Good Will Hunting.” Affleck also wrote and directed “Gone Baby Gone” and then directed and starred in “Argo.”
Not many people try to assume all three responsibilities. Woody Allen is probably one of the best-known writer/director/actor combos out there.
Getting to the point, there’s a bit of me that wonders if these folks are just control freaks afraid to turn the reins over to anyone. Maybe. But in every one of the instances I mentioned, it’s worked, and it works perfectly for Edgerton as well.
He’s crafted a masterful thriller and sleeper hit in “The Gift.” It’s edgy and slowly builds to a climax that leaves you speechless. Well, I might have uttered a choice phrase or two when BFG and I saw it, so maybe not speechless.
Bottom line: “The Gift” isn’t splashy, and it’s not a big-budget film. But Edgerton proves you don’t need special effects and a big wallet to craft a well-done film. It’s almost out of area theaters, but if you’re looking for something a little creepy that will leave you guessing, even to the very end, check it out.