Alex Reviews The Gift - Smart, Creepy, Intense... And NOTHING Like The Trailer

Joel Edgerton's directorial debut is the best psychological thriller in ages.

Rating: ˜…˜…˜…˜… €œFrom the producer of Insidious, Sinister and The Purge...€ proclaims the trailer for The Gift. You already know where this is going - a cheap production with a couple of well-known actors slumming it for a paycheck where upcoming horror is signposted a mile away, culminating in an over-the-top gorey finale that fails because any built-up tension has been undercut by a fake-out jump scare every ten minutes. NEXT. But wait, The Gift isn't that movie. Everything about the advertising suggests it€™s a vacuous thriller made to pad out the multiplexes for people who want chills over thrills during the blockbuster season (or, in a lucky turn of events for the Insidious producers, anyone who is wisely avoiding Fant4stic). Instead, it's a well-written psychological thriller that prompts a tricky moral debate alongside its meticulously-built tension. The set up is that Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) have moved to California, where one of Simon's old school friends, Gordo (Joel Edgerton), becomes increasingly, creepily involved in their lives. On paper it's pretty standard, but feels fresh and exciting thanks to a sharp, well-observed script that means through all it's peeling back of the past you buy the three key characters as real people.
The first indication The Gift isn't as advertised is how, in its opening run, the film is actually rather funny, mining the ridiculousness of the concept for some self-aware humour without dulling the fact that there€™s something more sinister (ha) at work. These sort of mid-scene tonal shifts are hard to pull off, and are thus rarely attempted in modern horror, which only serves to highlight the film's biggest strength - its actor-cum-director. You see, as well as playing the film's creep, Edgerton is also on writing and directing duties. As an actor he's been semi-prominent for so long (he was young Owen Lars in the Star Wars prequels) that he can feel a bit like a rather bland piece of the furniture, and while behind-the-scenes he's ostensibly taking on a bunch of well-worn tropes, he shows real distinction through their execution, working them into something fresh, True Detective style. I love a solid psychological thriller, and The Gift has such resonance and total restraint (even at its most extreme the film refuses to devolve into physical violence) that it stands as one of the best in recent years.
To go into the film's personal complexities would take us too far in spoiler territory (although some of the subsequent trailers have revealed what direction the film's initial twists are heading in), but the way it keeps wrong-footing you, shifting the spectre of blame and hinting at duplicitous motives means even days after viewing I still can't quite iron out the morality of it all. It's not as gut-wrenching as the likes of Hard Candy, but the debate that will rage after viewing is a tricky one. There are some sequences that on reflection are there just to up the creep factor, with no real impact on any of the later developments, while Phil€™s Rug Emporium is almost out of business after the sheer amount of twists, but these are criticisms born of being picky. When you take The Gift as a chilling cinema experience it's head-and-shoulders above the competition. One of the most refreshing elements perversely comes from that misrepresentational marketing campaign. Putting aside all of the genre double-footing, even the most spoilerific ad for the film only goes as far as the second act, leaving us with something that's increasingly rare in our media saturated age; genuine surprises. When you get to end of The Gift and Edgerton's tightly-wrapped plot unravels in a flourish of self-oneupmanship, you'll be on the edge of your seat, fearful and excited as you travel into the unexpected. Have you seen The Gift? Did you find is a chilling experience, or was it an empty thriller? Share your thoughts down in the comments.

Film Editor (2014-2016). Loves The Usual Suspects. Hates Transformers 2. Everything else lies somewhere in the middle. Once met the Chuckle Brothers.