“The Gift” is the kind of movie you’re going to want to sit through until the credits start to roll. But don’t. The moment in “The Gift” in which Rebecca Hall is recuperating in the hospital after giving birth is the same moment you should be grabbing your coat, putting on your hat and announcing to theater, “The Gift” is over; It’s time for snacks” as you and all of your new friends go somewhere to get several pizzas.
Whatever twisty-turny shit that happens after that scene isn’t worth seeing. Not because it’s objectionable or too intense, but because this particular twist is stupid and basically undoes all the smart, subversive elements that preceded it. “The Gift” becomes a better movie if you simply avoid parts of it.
Functioning as a millennial answer to ’90s cable TV fodder like “Unlawful Entry” and Scorsese’s “Cape Fear” remake, “The Gift” revolves around a young married couple (Jason Bateman and Hall) who are gently coerced into befriending a socially awkward military veteran (writer/director Joel Edgerton) after a chance (and very uncomfortable) encounter at an Ikea-like furniture store.
Although inconvenient at first, Edgerton’s visits become more frequent and far more obsessive as he leaves unwanted gifts at their doorstep. But just as Bateman intends to force a “break-up” on this one-sided friendship, it’s revealed that he has a very complicated history with Edgerton that stretches all the way back to their troubled childhoods.
As freshman film efforts go, “The Gift” is certainly better than most. On a technical level Edgerton imbues this film with a disquieting invasive quality. Scenes are frequently shot through the various windows of Bateman and Hall’s ultra-modern house and as we see them argue or host dinner parties, we’re basically seeing them in the same way Edgerton’s sympathetic weirdo possibly sees them. Unlike “Unlawful Entry”, Scorsese’s “Cape Fear” and other films in the obsessive stalker sub-genre, “The Gift” isn’t afraid to toy with its audience’s sympathies. Bateman may be the victim but he’s also an unrepentant prick who’s not above manipulating his wife or telling Edgerton that, “he doesn’t want to see him anymore” immediately after Edgerton reveals upsetting personal news about his dying marriage. Edgerton, on the other hand, may not be anything more than a pitiable sad sack, a faux-sinister strawman that Bateman is pinning his paranoid fears upon.
Unfortunately, by the time the third act rolls around the film stops upending genre expectations and starts fulfilling them. Appearing more tacked on and perplexing than the climax found in “Fantastic Four,” “The Gift’s” final twist feels like somebody showed Edgerton “Oldboy” as he was filming and decided to scrap his original ending because it wasn’t mind-blowing or totally, wickedly, extreme enough.
Emotionally dishonest, unnecessary and needlessly cruel to an innocent character, the ending is a Houdini-level gut punch that will leave you wheezing.
On the plus side, the performances are strong. Bateman’s smug yuppie is notably detestable and reveals just how horrible his characters can be once they’re removed from their comedic universe. “The Gift” benefits from a supporting cast of familiar faces. Allison Tolman of FX’s “Fargo” series pops up as a friend of Hall’s while Busy Phillips briefly appears as a nastier, far more vapid version of her boozy “Cougar Town” character. “The Gift” is not a bad movie, it’s something that could have worked a lot better if Edgerton wasn’t so preoccupied with shocking the panties off us.
Basically, check it out on Netflix a few months from now.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall,
Director: Joel Edgerton
Weekender Rating: WWW