BY ROGER THOMAS
The Gift is a different kind of film.
It is a thriller with very little violence or blood. There are no supernatural elements to it, yet it offers the audience several jolting scares. And in the end, a group of 10 people could see it together and reach different conclusions about the climax of the film. Not necessarily what happened, but what and who made things ultimately play out as they did.
This is the story of a young couple that moves back to California where the husband grew up. On a day of shopping for items to decorate their new home, a man approaches the husband and re-introduces himself. The two men were in high school together. A few days later, the man shows up at the couple’s home and seems to want or possibly need friends. One can conclude this much from the trailer, and perhaps a little more, but I will stop there.
As I watched “The Gift,” I found it too often be a quiet film. Even most of the conversations are subdued, spoken softly, at least until tempers flare.
I especially enjoyed the three main performances in the film. Jason Bateman, who picks many great projects, plays the husband, Simon. His performance here is constantly changing, as we understand more about his character.
Rebecca Hall plays the wife and she is the heart of this story. If anyone in this story is completely sympathetic, it is Hall’s Robyn. Her character also travels the longest emotional journey throughout the film.
Then there is Joel Edgerton as the former acquaintance, Gordo. Edgerton has been in several films that I really admire, but I have to admit, I did not recognize him here. This character seemed very distant from anything he has chosen to do in his prior work.
If Hall is the heart of the film, Edgerton is the driving force. Collectively, these three deliver a powerful collaboration.
There are a few bumps along the way. There are a couple of things I question in the plot development. There are issues that arise, or at least arose in my mind, but then again, most thrillers have some weaknesses.
But in the end, the film kept surprising me. It went in directions I did not expect. And it was about far more than one lonely man preying on a couple. As much as anything it is about identity, who one is and what one will do.
Does our past dictate our future? And how much do we change who we are from who we were? These are deep thoughts for a thriller, but they are all there, if you look for them.
As the film reached its climax, I did notice there was a buzz in the audience as people were beginning to realize what was going to happen. The knowledge swept through my mind along with them. Just because you realize a truth in no way diminishes the power of those last few minutes. “The Gift” is a small intimate thriller that satisfies.
I have realized as I write this review that most of my favorite films this year are about the characters’ feelings. The best film of the year for me is still “Inside Out” and it is all about feelings and emotions.
“The Gift,” though a thriller and a mystery, is also a film about feelings, from the past and the present. It is a film filled with emotions and is also one of the better films I have seen this year.
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.