You can mark Aug. 7, 2015 down as a weekend the critics won the box office. Fantastic Four, initially tracking at around $45 million, went down to $40 million when the putrid reviews hit, and the wheels came off even further over the weekend for what has to be a franchise destroying total of $26.2 million. The Gift went the opposite direction. Initially looking at $6 million, the film has received critical adulation and came away from the weekend with $12 million.
Hopefully, it’ll come out of next weekend with even more, because this movie is amazing.
The Gift starts with Simon and Robyn Callen (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) moving into a new home in California, where Simon grew up. They soon run into Gordo Moseley (Joel Edgerton, who also writes, directs and produces), an old friend of Simon Callen’s from high school who gets their address and starts bringing them expensive gifts and showing up when Simon isn’t around and generally creeping up the joint. Social pressures mount, and when Simon eventually tells him off, Moseley’s true motives begin to come to the fore.
This movie is suspense, not in the plot or the character structure, but in the visuals. Every frame of this movie is laced with more tension than any knife could possibly cut. The Callens’ beautiful, window-heavy home becomes a claustrophobic nightmare with enclosing hallway shots and shots from behind Robyn Callen, making her look vulnerable. We don’t talk about the use of color a lot because in most cases you have to see a movie several times to understand or even notice it, but Edgerton laces The Gift with subtle, bold clashes of yellow and blue, while also giving his own character a sinister blood red theme.
The narrative of this movie is so brilliant you hardly notice it’s there. Scenes feel less like they’re made to serve a longer story and more like organic things that play out on their own. They do, of course, serve the narrative — it’s a wonderfully streamlined movie — but everything feels more real than that.
The Gift is constantly playing with audience expectations of what this movie is about and where it’s going, even from the first trailer, which in hindsight is clearly just another deftly edited apparent reveal that actually reveals nothing. With dissonance between the movie’s tone and its plot, lines from Robyn Callen so self-aware she simply has to know that she’s the patsy in a horror film, and the constant knowledge that there’s more revelations to come, The Gift plays the role of a hypnotist — reading the audience’s mind after earlier telling it what to think.
After his amazing work behind the camera, Edgerton is equally adept when he steps in front of it. A lot of the time vanity pieces like this turn into a longform audition tape for the actor, who crams in every talent he can possibly portray. Edgerton goes the opposite direction here with a performance so restrained it becomes electric because of its restraints. The man has blended into the background of almost every other movie he’s been in, and he turns that into an art form here.
However, from an acting perspective, the star of the show is Bateman. Since Arrested Development, he’s been typecast as a non-threatening comic protagonist with a sharp sarcastic delivery, but he subtly delivers a career-shifting performance here as a conniving, pathologically dishonest prick who at the same time obviously loves his wife very much.
That’s what I mean when I say this movie feels more real — there’s dissonance here. There’s unhealthy, difficult-to-read expression of emotion. There are a lot of poisonous relationships in this movie. Obviously the horror aspects become primarily about that, as in most scary movies, but here there isn’t any kind of slasher or ghost to steal the spotlight, making it about the poisoned relationships in a more pure way.
A++. Three thumbs up. Five stars. Ten… whatevers. Any grading metric that will get your ass in a seat that is facing a screening of this movie. It is the biggest favor you can do yourself.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Time to kill people and break things, you disgusting lightweights! I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I think I’ll have to see this.