THE GIFT (2015)
Directed by Joel Edgerton
While often not the easiest things to give, gifts are great to receive. Now, riding on the waves of a reliable box office, the ever-successful studio Blumhouse are back to offer you yet another claustrophobic horror largely set in a middle class house. Yes, it’s approaching autumn so we’re going back to the suburbs! Only this time the threat’s not a naughty poltergeist, a heap of videos or a saucerful of aliens. Instead this debut-feature from actor/ writer/ director Joel Edgerton focuses on a much smaller and more human threat: an unwelcome friend.
When yuppies Simon (Bateman) and Robyn (Hall) relocate to recover from the aftermath of a miscarriage, it’s not just the past that comes knocking at the door of their new glass apartment (complete with a fishpond). Rather it’s the former’s school oddball Gordo: aka Gordo The Weirdo. Once a misfit he’s grown into a similarly maladjusted adult more than a little too keen to bond with a former schoolmate and his wife. Following an awkward reunion in the furniture store they invite him round to an uncomfortable dinner at their new apartment, where his failure in life becomes as apparent as the couple’s relative success. Unfortunately, as happens all too often in life, he doesn’t find it as difficult as they do. In fact he enjoys it so much he leaves them a gift or two. It starts small (a bottle of wine here) then gets odd (some exotic fish there) and before too long Simon doesn’t want him to see him again. At first Robyn thinks I’m harmless and even appears to relate to his vulnerability – big mistake. After an excellent set-piece late in the first half suggests he’s a compulsive liar, and slightly obsessed with her, she’s agreeing with her husband. However, a well-timed apology letter hinting at a secret in he and Simon’s shared past means as the second half begins she’s in detective mode.
During the first half I was convinced I’d be doing my first 5 star review in months. The early sequences with the 3 of them together are as blackly funny as they are creepy, with Gordo being evasive and oversharing in equal measures. Furthermore, Edgerton’s performance, along with the slowly developing threat, is completely believable. Rather than a shaky oafish caricature he is unhinged but not obviously malicious. With hints of various traumas inflicted on him, during what’s probably been a miserable life, he’s even quite sympathetic. Consequently, when he gets abandoned, you don’t want them to turn back. But you do want to see him get help. It’s this goodwill in the bank that keeps us invested. Sure, the beats are a little similar to other domestic horror movies like The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, Single White Female or Fatal Attraction i.e. presents appear outside doors, pets disappear behind doors and people dream of seeing intruders through misted shower doors. Yet they’re effective here because we care about who they happen too. The other two leads are good too, if not so stand out. Hall’s very much on form, undergoing a strong arc throughout, whilst Bateman tones down his usual comedy but retains enough charisma for us to believe she could love him. This is even despite when she finds out what she does about him in the second half.
Unfortunately this is where the movie really falls down. I was as disappointed by the second half as I was pleased by the first as the once promising movie becomes the gift that keeps giving. The pace grinds as she investigates a fairly underwhelming event from her husband and Gordo’s school. Along the way Simon’s plans for promotion plod on in the background, and no sooner is he manipulating his bosses than she finds out he’s been less than honest with her. This change sees the key source of dramatic tension switch too much, as the danger outside her home takes a backseat to the lying bastard inside it (whose the real psychopath? etc). The problem is that the momentum suffers since much of the last act could happen with or without Gordo’s involvement, making his scant appearances fairly incidental to the plot. Sure, there’s a gloriously nasty final ten minutes that’ll stick with you after. But it’s simply not scary enough to be a great horror and nor is it credible enough to be a decent drama. I can’t help but feel a movie that may have been a contender for best horror the year is merely a contender for best of the month (competing with other Blumhouse movie The Gallows). Overall The Gift is not just neatly packed socks, but neither is it that thing you waited all year for. Still, Christmas is only a few months away.