The Gift (2015) – Review

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Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton
Written for the screen and directed by: Joel Egerton
Metacritic Score: 77
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
IMDb Score: 7.2

Rated R for language.

Thrillers are best made when there is a built in logic system for the story. Here are some examples:

Children of Men – The Logic System dictates that people cannot get pregnant. However, someone does become pregnant. Therefore, said person must be hidden from rest of society to safety.
Memento – The Logic System dictates that the main character cannot create new memories. Despite this, he uses clues he’s written down, used pictures and tattooed on his body to find the person who raped and murdered his wife.
Die Hard – The Logic System dictates that master terrorists have taken over a building to get cash bonds. However, a wild card in the form of John McClane, whose wife is one of the captive, goes through the terrorists one by one to reach them.

What’s the common thing? There is a substantive rule set that says “This is how it is and how it is supposed to be” that grounds the movie, while another force is going the opposite way, forcing the rule set t0 show it’s rule is definitive. Do all thrillers go by this method? No, but most do.

Simon (Bateman) and Robyn (Hall) move into a nice house in a nice neighborhood after Simon gets a promotion at his job. On a chance meeting, they meet Gordo (Edgerton), a man from Simon’s high school past. After this, impromptu visits and dead fish ensue.

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So, let’s follow this Logic System rule for The Gift:

Simon and Robyn meet Gordo, but Simon doesn’t want to be Gordo’s friend. Therefore, Simon must do anything to show they don’t want to be friends? Simon must do anything to keep Gordo away from his wife?

Very much like Unfriended, when the ground at which the film is made is flawed, you will be left with a flawed move regardless of anything else. This stalker film doesn’t go dark like One Hour Photo or goes completely bat-shit crazy like Fatal Attraction, but it’s a film that doesn’t know what it wants to make the stalker like.

Gordo (which, by the way, is there a worse name to give someone that doesn’t obviously state “weirdo”?) isn’t threatening. He’s rather meek and unassuming (and remains so until, predictably and disappointingly at the last 10 minutes), walks with kind of a right side schlump. Not a slump, not a frump, but a schlump, like he just favors that side due to bad posture or something.

Really, in no way, does this character give away anything in the movie that he is a threat or someone who has that “light-switch” mentality. Because of this, it becomes rather hard to believe that he would do harm to anything after the eventual break-up happens.

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This isn’t because “Oh, it’s just so shocking and came out of left field!” It’s because the twist isn’t earned. There’s no set-up or foreshadowing to state this is a possibility, unless you want to count his impromptu visits (which is fine if you do.).

The character of Gordo isn’t really a character, or even a caricature, at all. He is a complete blank slate. And not an inhuman, non-feeling blank slate: just a vanilla, boring husk of space on a cinema screen. To have the “threat” be someone you see literally nothing in can result in two things: Absolutely paranoia inducing and horrifying or just something you look at and go “Really?”. Gordo slides comfortably with a premium Lay-Z-Boy to the latter.

For a movie that was written to pay attention to three people, none of them really rise up from their initial preconceptions. Thrillers, unless they are slashers, require good characters to root for that you don’t want to see them harmed. The two main characters don’t change at all. One’s obviously a sociopathic alpha male, while the other is an attractive, shy, well-to-do sweetheart who doesn’t know any better.

When the only character development is the woman saying “Hey, my husband of many years is a dick.” It’s a sad and underdeveloped character arc.

Also, the direction is pretty pedestrian as well. No building of suspension, no feeling of disturbance, no unease. Making a thriller that doesn’t thrill, excite or even entice the slightest bit of fear in you just results in a boring, lifeless mess.

Oh, and before I forget, the last 10 minutes: What the hell is that all about? Suddenly, this meek and harmless sap of a man…does what? I won’t spoil, of course, but zero was done to foreshadow or even hint that he is capable of doing what he did.

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This isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen in a long time, but man is this movie a rough watch. No character arc, thrills that don’t exist, a threat that isn’t that threatening (even after the last 10 minutes) and overall just an experience that is very much forgotten after the credits end.

In close, I pose a question:

If someone goes up to you and says “See that guy? He’s the scariest mother-father you could possibly be near!” and points you to a newborn baby, how would you react to that? Is he making a statement about the perils of parenthood? Does the baby’s shit smell THAT bad? Does he not know what the hell he’s talking about?

That’s what watching The Gift was like as a thriller experience.

1/5 – Creating a villain who is neither villain like nor threatening a great thriller doesn’t make.

The Wiz Says #43

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